Highlights from “Advice to Young Men” (William Cobbett)
Post from February 1, 2018 (↻ December 9, 2020), filed under Everything Else.
Emphasis as it appears in the original work may be missing, and my own edits, though marked, may be broad. Then, important: By sharing these highlights I neither implicitly endorse nor recommend respective authors and their views. Assume that I know little of the authors, and that I have a nuanced view on the matter. (The only thing the highlights can tell is that—much like the books themselves—for some reason or other I found them of interest.) When detailed understanding of my views is important, ask me.
- Letter I: To a Youth
- Letter II: To a Young Man
- Letter III: To a Lover
- Letter IV: To a Husband
- Letter V: To a Father
- Letter VI: To the Citizen
It is the duty, and ought to be the pleasure, of age and experience to warn and instruct youth and to come to the aid of inexperience.
[…]when we consider in how great a degree the happiness of all the remainder of a man’s life depends, and always must depend, on his taste and judgment in the character of a lover, this may well be considered as the most important period of the whole term of his existence.
Letter I: To a Youth
Start, I beseech you, with a conviction firmly fixed on your mind, that you have no right to live in this world; that, being of hale body and sound mind, you have no right to any earthly existence, without doing work of some sort or other, unless you have ample fortune whereon to live clear of debt; and, that even in that case, you have no right to breed children, to be kept by others, or to be exposed to the chance of being so kept.
[…]write it on your heart, that you will depend solely on your own merit and your own exertions.
He who lives upon anything except his own labour, is incessantly surrounded by rivals
“To live upon little” is the great security against slavery
“Pensioner—A slave of state.”
Endless are the instances of men of bright parts and high spirit having been, by degrees, rendered powerless and despicable, by their imaginary wants.
Extravagance in dress, in the haunting of play-houses, in horses, in everything else, is to be avoided, and, in youths and young men, extravagance in dress particularly.
[…]It arises from the notion, that all the people in the street, for instance, will be looking at you as soon as you walk out; and that they will, in a greater or less degree, think the better of you on account of your fine dress. Never was notion more false. All the sensible people that happen to see you, will think nothing at all about you: those who are filled with the same vain notion as you are, will perceive your attempt to impose on them, and will despise you accordingly: rich people will wholly disregard you, and you will be envied and hated by those who have the same vanity that you have without the means of gratifying it.
Dress should be suited to your rank and station
Men are estimated by other men according to their capacity and willingness to be in some way or other useful; and though, with the foolish and vain part of women, fine clothes frequently do something
[…]after all, if the fine clothes obtain you a wife, will they bring you, in that wife, frugality, good sense, and that sort of attachment that is likely to be lasting?
Natural beauty of person is quite another thing: this always has, it always will and must have, some weight even with men, and great weight with women. But this does not want to be set off by expensive clothes.
[…]women, however personally vain they may be themselves, despise personal vanity in men.
[…]never, no, not for one moment, believe, that any human being, with sense in his skull, will love or respect you on account of your fine or costly clothes.
[…]taxes will, after all, maintain only so many idlers. We cannot all be “knights” and “gentlemen”: there must be a large part of us, after all, to make and mend clothes and houses, and carry on trade and commerce […].
Always aspiring to something higher than he can reach, his life is a life of disappointment and of shame.
“It is not the quantity or the quality of the meat, or drink, but the love of it that is condemned
This love of what are called “good eating and drinking,” if very unamiable in grown-up persons, is perfectly hateful in a youth
[…]I have never known a man, “fond of good eating and drinking,” as it is called; that I have never known such a man (and hundreds I have known) who was worthy of respect.
Water-drinkers are universally laughed at; but, it has always seemed to me, that they are amongst the most welcome of guests
[…]. The truth is, they give no trouble; they occasion no anxiety to please them; they are sure not to make their sittings inconveniently long; and, which is the great thing of all, their example teaches moderation to the rest of the company.
He that eats till he is full is little better than a beast; and he that drinks till he is drunk is quite a beast.
[…]there ought to be hours of recreation, and I do not know that eight are too many; but, then observe, those hours ought to be well-chosen, and the sort of recreation ought to be attended to.
[…]those who go to play-houses pay their money to hear uttered such words as the government approve of, and no others.
“Show me a man’s companions” says the proverb, “and I will tell you what the man is;” and this is, and must be true
[…]no youth, nor man, ought to be called your friend, who is addicted to indecent talk, or who is fond of the society of prostitutes.
If you have to choose, choose companions of your own rank in life as nearly as may be; but, at any rate, none to whom you acknowledge inferiority; for, slavery is too soon learned; and, if the mind be bowed down in the youth, it will seldom rise up in the man.
I wish every English youth could see those of the United States of America; always civil, never servile. Be obedient, where obedience is due
It is no disgrace, but the contrary, to obey, cheerfully, lawful and just commands.
To obtain respect worth possessing, you must, as I observed before, do more than the common run of men in your state of life; and, to be enabled to do this, you must manage well your time
People never should sit talking till they do not know what to talk about.
Those who first invented morning-gowns and slippers could have very little else to do.
[…]be your business or calling what it may, dress at once for the day; and learn to do it as quickly as possible.
[…]I mean to do something a great deal better for him.” “What is that?” said Sir John. “Why,” said the other, “teach him to shave with cold water and without a glass.”
Do the whole at once for the day, whatever may be your state of life; and then you have a day unbroken by those indispensable performances.
Being, at an age under twenty years, raised from Corporal to Serjeant Major at once, over the heads of thirty Serjeants, I naturally should have been an object of envy and hatred; but this habit of early rising and of rigid adherence to the precepts which I have given you, really subdued these passions; because every one felt, that what I did he had never done, and never could do.
Money is said to be power, which is, in some cases, true; and the same may be said of knowledge; but superior sobriety, industry and activity, are a still more certain source of power; for without these, knowledge is of little use; and, as to the power which money gives, it is that of brute force, it is the power of the bludgeon and the bayonet, and of the bribed press, tongue and pen.
The drunken, the lazy, and the inert, stand abashed before the sober and the active.
[…]we may, and often do, admire the talents of lazy, and even dissipated men, but we do not trust them with the care of our interests.
[…]be more sober, more industrious, more active than the general run of those amongst whom you live.
As to education, this word is now applied exclusively to things which are taught in schools; but education means rearing up, and the French speak of the education of pigs and sheep.
The first thing to be required of a man is, that he understand well his own calling, or profession; and, be you in what state of life you may, to acquire this knowledge ought to be your first and greatest care.
Stick, therefore, to the shop; rely upon your mercantile or mechanical or professional calling; try your strength in literature, if you like; but, rely on the shop.
[…]book-learning is not only proper, but highly commendable; and portions of it are absolutely necessary in every case of trade or profession.
[…]lay down a rule to write or to read a certain fixed quantity every day, Sunday excepted.
Our minds are not always in the same state; they have not, at all times, the same elasticity; to-day we are full of hope on the very same grounds which, to-morrow, afford us no hope at all
Five or six triumphs over temptation to indolence or despair lay the foundation of certain success; and, what is of still more importance, fix in you the habit of perseverance.
If your own calling or profession require book-study, books treating of that are to be preferred to all others; for, the first thing, the first object in life, is to secure the honest means of obtaining sustenance, raiment, and a state of being suitable to your rank, be that rank what it may: excellence in your own calling is, therefore, the first thing to be aimed at. After this may come general knowledge, and of this, the first is a thorough knowledge of your own country
Letter II: To a Young Man
A man, oppressed with pecuniary cares and dangers, must be next to a miracle, if he have his mind in a state fit for intellectual labours; to say nothing of the temptations, arising from such distress, to abandon good principles, to suppress useful opinions and useful facts; and, in short, to become a disgrace to his kindred, and an evil to his country, instead of being an honour to the former and a blessing to the latter. To be poor and independent, is very nearly an impossibility.
[…]that a labourer who earned a sufficiency to maintain him as a labourer, and to maintain him in a suitable manner; to give him a sufficiency of good food, of clothing, of lodging, and of fuel, ought not to be called a poor man; for that, though he had little riches, though his, compared with that of a lord, was a state of poverty, it was not a state of poverty in itself.
[…]that I cannot form an idea of a mortal more wretched than a man of real talent, compelled to curb his genius, and to submit himself in the exercise of that genius, to those whom he knows to be far inferior to himself, and whom he must despise from the bottom of his soul.
[…]poverty is, except where there is an actual want of food and raiment, a thing much more imaginary than real.
The shame of poverty, the shame of being thought poor, is a great and fatal weakness, though arising, in this country, from the fashion of the times themselves.
When a good man
[…]means a rich man, we are not to wonder that every one wishes to be thought richer than he is.
No man shuns another because he is poor: no man is preferred to another because he is rich.
There is no shame belonging to poverty, which frequently arises from the virtues of the impoverished parties.
The true way is, to take a fair survey of the character of a man as depicted in his conduct, and to respect him, or despise him, according to a due estimate of that character.
“Owe no man any thing
[…]have as little as possible to do with any man who is fond of law-suits, and who, upon every slight occasion, talks of an appeal to the law.
To set an attorney to work to worry and torment another man is a very base act
As to the spending of your time, your business or your profession is to claim the priority of everything else.
[…]Men, however, must have some leisure, some relaxation from business; and in the choice of this relaxation much of your happiness will depend.
Women stand in need of no drink to stimulate them to converse; and I have a thousand times admired their patience in sitting quietly at their work
When women are getting up to retire from the table, men rise in honour of them; but they take special care not to follow their excellent example.
Another mode of spending the leisure time is that of books. Rational and well-informed companions may be still more instructive; but books never annoy; they cost little; and they are always at hand
[…]there is one thing always to be guarded against; and that is, not to admire and applaud anything you read, merely because it is the fashion to admire and applaud it.
I have, since that time, never taken any thing upon trust: I have judged for myself, trusting neither to the opinions of writers nor in the fashions of the day.
Besides reading, a young man ought to write, if he have the capacity and the leisure. If you wish to remember a thing well, put it into writing, even if you burn the paper immediately after you have done; for the eye greatly assists the mind.
A journal should be kept by every young man. Put down something against every day in the year, if it be merely a description of the weather. You will not have done this for one year without finding the benefit of it. It disburthens the mind of many things to be recollected; it is amusing and useful, and ought by no means to be neglected.
Letter III: To a Lover
There are two descriptions of Lovers on whom all advice would be wasted; namely, those in whose minds passion so wholly overpowers reason as to deprive the party of his sober senses. Few people are entitled to more compassion than young men thus affected: it is a species of insanity that assails them
In cases not quite so decided, absence, the sight of new faces, the sound of new voices, generally serve, if not as a radical cure, as a mitigation, at least, of the disease .
No girl ever liked a young man less for his having done things foolish and wild and ridiculous, provided she was sure that love of her had been the cause: let her but be satisfied upon this score, and there are very few things which she will not forgive.
[…]though wholly unconscious of the fact, she is a great and sound philosopher after all.
The other description of lovers, with whom it is useless to reason, are those who love according to the rules of arithmetic
[…]. These are not love and marriage; they are bargain and sale.
You should never forget, that marriage, which is a state that every young person ought to have in view, is a thing to last for life; and that, generally speaking, it is to make life happy
[…]. […]Marriage brings numerous cares, which are amply compensated by the more numerous delights which are their companions.
The things which you ought to desire in a wife are,
- knowledge of domestic affairs;
- good temper;
A loose woman is a disagreeable acquaintance: what must she be, then, as a wife? Love is so blind, and vanity is so busy in persuading us that our own qualities will be sufficient to ensure fidelity, that we are very apt to think nothing, or, at any rate, very little, of trifling symptoms of levity; but if such symptoms show themselves now, we may be well assured, that we shall never possess the power of effecting a cure.
[…]Your “free and hearty” girls I have liked very well to talk and laugh with; but never, for one moment, did it enter into my mind that I could have endured a “free and hearty” girl for a wife. The thing is, I repeat, to last for life […].
[…]the only effectual safeguard is, to begin well; to make a good choice; to let the beginning be such as to render infidelity and jealousy next to impossible.
By sobriety I do not mean merely an absence of drinking to a state of intoxication
There are few things so disgusting as a guzzling woman. A gormandizing one is bad enough; but, one who tips off the liquor with an appetite, and exclaims “good! good!” by a smack of her lips, is fit for nothing but a brothel.
Miserable is the man, who cannot leave all unlocked, and who is not sure, quite certain, that all is as safe as if grasped in his own hand.
[…]in order to possess this precious trust-worthiness, you must, if you can, exercise your reason in the choice of your partner.
To have a trust-worthy wife, you must begin by showing her, even before you are married, that you have no suspicions, no fears, no doubts, with regard to her.
[…]All women despise jealous men; and, if they marry such their motive is other than that of affection.
Prostitutes never love, and, for the far greater part, never did. Their passion, which is more mere animal than any thing else, is easily gratified; they, like rakes, change not only without pain, but with pleasure; that is to say, pleasure as great as they can enjoy. Women of light minds have seldom any ardent passion; love is a mere name, unless confined to one object
[…]warmth, that indescribable passion which God has given to human beings as the great counterbalance to all the sorrows and sufferings of life.
There is no state of life in which industry in the wife is not necessary to the happiness and prosperity of the family, at the head of the household affairs of which she is placed.
[…]if you find the tongue lazy, you may be nearly certain that the hands and feet are the same. By laziness of the tongue I do not mean silence; I do not mean an absence of talk, for that is, in most cases, very good; but, I mean, a slow and soft utterance; a sort of sighing out of the words instead of speaking them; a sort of letting the sounds fall out, as if the party were sick at stomach. The pronunciation of an industrious person is generally quick, distinct, and the voice, if not strong, firm at the least.
“Quick at meals, quick at work,” is a saying as old as the hills, in this, the most industrious nation upon earth; and never was there a truer saying.
[…]as to love, it cannot live for more than a month or two (in the breast of a man of spirit) towards a lazy woman.
[…]no man ever yet saw a sauntering girl, who did not, when married, make a mawkish wife, and a cold-hearted mother; cared very little for either by husband or children; and, of course, having no store of those blessings which are the natural resources to apply to in sickness and in old age.
Early-rising is another mark of industry
[…]never was there yet an early-rising wife, who had been a late-rising girl.
If brought up to late rising, she will like it; it will be her habit; she will, when married, never want excuses for indulging in the habit
Frugality. This means the contrary of extravagance. It does not mean stinginess; it does not mean a pinching of the belly, nor a stripping of the back; but it means an abstaining from all unnecessary expenditure
The outward and visible and vulgar signs of extravagance are rings, broaches, bracelets, buckles, necklaces, diamonds (real or mock), and, in short, all the hard-ware which women put upon their persons.
Cleanliness. This is a capital ingredient
[…]occasional cleanliness is not the thing that an English or an American husband wants: he wants it always […].
The signs of cleanliness are, in the first place, a clean skin.
“The sweetest flowers, when they become putrid, stink the most; and a nasty woman is the nastiest thing in nature.”
The affairs of a great family never can be well managed, if left wholly to hirelings
No one knows how to teach another so well as one who has done, and can do, the thing himself.
It was said of a famous French commander, that, in attacking an enemy, he did not say to his men “go on,” but “come on;” and, whoever have well observed the movements of servants, must know what a prodigious difference there is in the effect of the words, go and come.
[…]exercise is good for health; and without health there is no beauty; a sick beauty may excite pity, but pity is a short-lived passion.
[…]lovers may live on very aërial diet; but husbands stand in need of the solids [.]
[…]an everlasting complaining, without rhyme or reason, is a bad sign.
An eternal disputer is a most disagreeable companion
are always unhappy about something, either past, present, or to come. Both arms full of children is a pretty efficient remedy in most cases
The argument is, that beauty exposes the possessor to greater temptation than women not beautiful are exposed to; and that, therefore, their fall is more probable.
It is certainly true, that pretty girls will have more, and more ardent, admirers than ugly ones; but, as to the temptation when in their unmarried state, there are few so very ugly as to be exposed to no temptation at all; and, which is the most likely to resist; she who has a choice of lovers, or she who if she let the occasion slip may never have it again? Which of the two is most likely to set a high value upon her reputation, she whom all beholders admire, or she who is admired, at best, by mere chance?
[…]if you search the annals of conjugal infidelity, you will find, that, nine times out of ten, the fault is in the husband. It is his neglect, his flagrant disregard, his frosty indifference, his foul example; it is to these that, nine times out of ten, he owes the infidelity of his wife […].
[…]as is frequently the case, he have preferred rank or money to beauty, he is an unprincipled man, if he do any thing to make her unhappy who has brought him the rank or the money.
Few women are handsome without knowing it; and if they know that their features naturally attract admiration, will they desire to draw it off, and to fix it on lace and silks and jewels?
[…]as have all the best reasons in the world for being pleased with themselves, they afford you the best chance of general good humour; and this good humour is a very valuable commodity in the married state.
[…]the great use of female beauty, the great practical advantage of it is, that it naturally and unavoidably tends to keep the husband in good humour with himself, to make him, to use the dealer’s phrase, pleased with his bargain.
Beauty is, in some degree, a matter of taste: what one man admires, another does not; and it is fortunate for us that it is thus. But still there are certain things that all men admire; and a husband is always pleased when he perceives that a portion, at least, of these things are in his own possession: he takes this possession as a compliment to himself: there must, he will think the world will believe, have been some merit in him, some charm, seen or unseen, to have caused him to be blessed with the acquisition.
To be sure, when a man has, from whatever inducement, once married a woman, he is unjust and cruel if he even slight her on account of her want of beauty
[…]guard, if you can, against the temptation to commit such injustice, which is to be done in no other way, than by not marrying any one that you do not think handsome.
[…]you have no right to break the heart of her who has, and that, too, with your accordance, and, indeed, at your instigation, or, at least, by your encouragement, confided it to your fidelity. […]you ought scrupulously to avoid every thing calculated to aggravate the sufferings of the disconsolate party.
It is when you meet in company with others of your own age that you are, in love matters, put, most frequently, to the test, and exposed to detection.
Letter IV: To a Husband
[…]a good young woman may be made, by a weak, a harsh, a neglectful, an extravagant, or a profligate husband, a really bad wife and mother.
As to oldish ones, or widows, time and other things have, in most cases, blunted their feelings, and rendered harsh or stern demeanor in the husband a matter not of heart-breaking consequence. But with a young and inexperienced one, the case is very different; and you should bear in mind, that the first frown that she receives from you is a dagger to her heart.
Nature has so ordered it, that men shall become less ardent in their passion after the wedding day; and that women shall not.
[…]if you have a mind to be happy, repay it with all your soul. Let what may happen to put you out of humour with others, let nothing put you out of humour with her. Let your words and looks and manners be just what they were before you called her wife.
[…]now, and throughout your life, show your affection for her, and your admiration of her, not in nonsensical compliment; not in picking up her handkerchief, or her glove, or in carrying her fan or parasol; not, if you have the means, in hanging trinkets and baubles upon her; not in making yourself a fool by winking at, and seeming pleased at, her foibles, or follies, or faults; but show them by acts of real goodness towards her; prove by unequivocal deeds the high value that you set on her health and life and peace of mind; let your praise of her go to the full extent of her deserts, but let it be consistent with truth and with sense […].
“Like master like man,” is an old and true proverb
When left to ourselves we all seek the company that we like best; the company in which we take the most delight: and therefore every husband, be his state of life what it may, who spends his leisure time, or who, at least, is in the habit of doing it, in company other than that of his wife and family, tells her and them, as plainly by deeds as he could possibly do by words, that he takes more delight in other company than in theirs. Children repay this with disregard for their father; but to a wife of any sensibility, it is either a dagger to her heart or an incitement to revenge, and revenge, too, of a species which a young woman will seldom be long in want of the means to gratify.
[…]what right has such a husband to expect fidelity? He has broken his vow; and by what rule of right has she to be bound to hers? She thought that she was marrying a man; and she finds that she was married to a beast.
[…]begin well [.]It is by slow degrees that the mischief is done. […]Let him resolve, from the very first, never to spend an hour from home, unless business, or, at least, some necessary and rational purpose demand it. Where ought he to be, but with the person whom he himself hath chosen to be his partner for life, and the mother of his children?
Habit is a powerful thing; and if he begin right, the pleasure that he will derive from it will induce him to continue right.
[…]It is being at the husband’s place, whether he have children or not. And is there any want of matter for conversation between a man and his wife?
[…]what I protest against is, the habit of spending leisure hours from home, and near to it; and doing this without any necessity, and by choice: liking the next door, or any house in the same street, better than your own.
[…]she concludes that you would be with her if you could, and that satisfies [.]
[…]if all young men knew how much value women set upon this species of fidelity, there would be fewer unhappy couples than there are. If men have appointments with lords, they never dream of breaking them; and I can assure them that wives are as sensitive in this respect as lords.
There are, comparatively, very few women not replete with maternal love; and, by-the-by, take you care, if you meet with a girl who “is not fond of children,” not to marry her by any means.
Being fond of little children argues no effeminacy in a man, but, as far as my observation has gone, the contrary.
[…]“Praise the child, and you make love to the mother;” and it is surprising how far this will go. To a fond mother you can do nothing so pleasing as to praise the baby, and, the younger it is, the more she values the compliment.
Watch, therefore, the incipient steps of encroachment; and they come on so slowly, so softly, that you must be sharp-sighted if you perceive them; but the moment you do perceive them: your love will blind for too long a time; but the moment you do perceive them, put at once an effectual stop to their progress. Never mind the pain that it may give you: a day of pain at this time will spare you years of pain in time to come.
[…]the very nature of things prescribes that there must be a head of every house, and an undivided authority.
You want no comité: reason, law, religion, the marriage vow; all these have made you head, have given you full power to rule your family, and if you give up your right, you deserve the contempt that assuredly awaits you, and also the ruin that is, in all probability, your doom.
[…]when the questions are, what is to be the calling to be pursued; what is to be the place of residence; what is to be the style of living and scale of expence; what is to be done with property; what the manner and place of educating children; what is to be their calling or state of life; who are to be employed or entrusted by the husband; what are the principles that he is to adopt as to public matters; whom he is to have for coadjutors or friends; all these must be left solely to the husband; in all these he must have his will; or there never can be any harmony in the family.
Nevertheless, in some of these concerns, wives should be heard with a great deal of attention, especially in the affairs of choosing your male acquaintances and friends and associates. Women are more quick-sighted than men; they are less disposed to confide in persons upon a first acquaintance; they are more suspicious as to motives; they are less liable to be deceived by professions and protestations; they watch words with a more scrutinizing ear, and looks with a keener eye
[…]every husband can do in the way of prevention ; and that is, to give no ground for it.
to romp most famously with the girls that came in my way; till one day, at Philadelphia, my wife said to me, in a very gentle manner, “Don’t do that: I do not like it.” That was quite enough
Now I would advise a young man, especially if he have a pretty wife, not to commit her unnecessarily to the care of any other man; not to be separated from her in this studious and ceremonious manner; and not to be ashamed to prefer her company and conversation to that of any other woman.
[…]why gratify your love of talk, or the vanity of any woman, at even the risk of exciting uneasiness in that mind of which it is your most sacred duty to preserve [.]
[…]people, who can choose, will be where they like best to be, and that they will be along with those whose company they best like. […]Nor do I see the use, or sense, of keeping a great deal of company […].
[…]this hankering after company, proves, clearly proves, that you want something beyond the society of your wife; and that she is sure to feel most acutely [.]
To be sure, infidelity in a man is less heinous than infidelity in the wife
[…]the husband, by his breach of that vow, only brings shame upon his wife and family; whereas the wife, by a breach of her vow, may bring the husband a spurious offspring to maintain, and may bring that spurious offspring to rob of their fortunes, and in some cases of their bread, her legitimate children. […]
But as the crime is so much more heinous, and the punishment so much more severe, in the case of the wife than it is in the case of the husband, so the caution ought to be greater in making the accusation, or entertaining the suspicion. Men ought to be very slow in entertaining such suspicions: they ought to have clear proof before they can suspect
[…]if unhappily he have the proof , no consideration on earth ought to induce him to cohabit with her one moment longer.
Jealous husbands are not despicable because they have grounds; but because they have not grounds; and this is generally the case. When they have grounds, their own honour commands them to cast off the object
[…]. It is not the jealousy in itself, which is despicable; but the continuing to live in that state.
[…]what is death itself, compared with the baseness, the infamy, the never-ceasing shame and reproach of living under the same roof with a prostituted woman, and calling her your wife? But, there are children, and what are to become of these? To be taken away from the prostitute, to be sure; and this is a duty which you owe to them: the sooner they forget her the better, and the farther they are from her, the sooner that will be.
There is no excuse for continuing to live with an adultress; no inconvenience, no loss, no suffering, ought to deter a man from delivering himself from such a state of filthy infamy
[…]all this supposes, that the husband has well and truly acted his part! It supposes, not only that he has been faithful; but, that he has not, in any way, been the cause of temptation to the wife to be unfaithful. If he have been cold and neglectful; if he have led a life of irregularity; if he have proved to her that home was not his delight; if he have made his house the place of resort for loose companions; if he have given rise to a taste for visiting, junketting, parties of pleasure and gaiety; if he have introduced the habit of indulging in what are called “innocent freedoms;” if these, or any of these, the fault is his, he must take the consequences, and he has no right to inflict punishment on the offender, the offence being in fact of his own creating. […]as far as my observation has gone, in nineteen out of twenty cases of infidelity in wives, the crimes have been fairly ascribable to the husbands. Folly or misconduct in the husband, cannot, indeed, justify or even palliate infidelity in the wife, whose very nature ought to make her recoil at the thought of the offence; but it may, at the same time, deprive him of the right of inflicting punishment on her [.]
[…]men will talk to your wife, and natter her. To be sure they will, if she be young and pretty; and would you go and pull her away from them? O no, by no means; but you must have very little sense, or must have made very little use of it, if her manner do not soon convince them that they employ their flattery in vain.
If do not prefer the company of each other to that of all the world besides; if either of them be weary of the company of the other; if they do not, when separated by business or any other cause, think with pleasure of the time of meeting again, it is a bad omen. Pursue this course when young, and the very thought of jealousy will never come into your mind; and, if you do pursue it, and show by your deeds that you value your wife as you do your own life, you must be pretty nearly an idiot, if she do not think you to be the wisest man in the world. The best man she will be sure to think you, and she will never forgive any one that calls your talents or your wisdom in question.
[…]to be a father, with all the lasting and delightful ties attached to the name, you must first be a husband [.]
Put a rigging horse into a field with a weak fence, and with captivating pasture on the other side, and he is continually trying to get out; but, let the field be walled round, he makes the best of his hard fare, and divides his time between grazing and sleeping.
The cares and troubles of the married life are many; but, are those of the single life few?
To provide for a wife and children is the greatest of all possible spurs to exertion.
[…]how should I have been without this wife and these children? I might have amassed a tolerable heap of money; but what would that have done for me? It might have bought me plenty of professions of attachment; plenty of persons impatient for my exit from the world; but not one single grain of sorrow, for any anguish that might have attended my approaching end. To me, no being in this world appears so wretched as an Old Bachelor.
[…]where he has a will to make, and a faithful wife to leave behind him, it is his first duty to provide for her future well-being, to the utmost of his power. If she brought him no money, she brought him her person; and by delivering that up to him, she established a claim to his careful protection of her to the end of her life.
Where there are children, indeed, it is the duty of the husband to provide, in certain cases, against step-fathers, who are very prone not to be the most just and affectionate parents.
[…]a second marriage in the woman is more gross than in the man [.]
The man who obtains the means of indulging in vice, by robbery, exposes himself to the inflictions of the law; but though he merits punishment, he merits it less than the base miscreant who obtains his means by his threats to disgrace his own wife, children, and the wife’s parents.
[…]a bad husband was never yet a happy man.
Letter V: To a Father
“Little children,” says the Scripture, “are like arrows in the hands of the giant, and blessed is the man that hath his quiver full of them”; a beautiful figure to describe, in forcible terms, the support, the power, which a father derives from being surrounded by a family.
[…]it is yourself that you see in your children: their bosoms are the safe repository of even the whispers of your mind[.]
It is, therefore, of the greatest importance, that you here act well your part, omitting nothing, even from the very beginning, tending to give you great and unceasing influence over their minds; and, above all things, to ensure, if possible, an ardent love of their mother.
[…]no food is so congenial to the child as the milk of its own mother; its quality is made by nature to suit the age of the child; it comes with the child, and is calculated precisely for its stomach.
Of all the sights that this world affords, the most delightful in my eyes, even to an unconcerned spectator, is, a mother with her clean and fat baby lugging at her breast, leaving off now-and-then and smiling, and she, occasionally, half smothering it with kisses.
may, and generally do, in a short time, care little about the foster-mother; the teaching weans all their affection from her, but it does not transfer it to the other.
The preservation of life is not to be preferred to every thing. Ought not a man to prefer death to the commission of treason against his country? Ought not a man to die, rather than save his life by the prostitution of his wife to a tyrant, who insists upon the one or the other?
It is well known that the unworthy members of any profession, calling, or rank in life, cause, by their acts, the whole body to sink in the general esteem
Safety must be the rule, and danger the exception
woman who is not fond of babies is not worthy the name; but where is the man who does not feel his heart softened; who does not feel himself become gentler; who does not lose all the hardness of his temper
[…]a great fondness for music is a mark of great weakness, great vacuity of mind: not of hardness of heart; not of vice; not of downright folly; but of a want of capacity, or inclination, for sober thought. This is not always the case: accidental circumstances almost force the taste upon people: but, generally speaking, it is a preference of sound to sense.
[…]a woman will forgive any thing but calling her ugly; a very true maxim, perhaps, as applied to prostitutes, whether in high or low life; but a pretty long life of observation has told me, that a mother, worthy of the name, will care little about what you say of her person, so that you will but extol the beauty of her baby. Her baby is always the very prettiest that ever was born!
To say of a man, that he is fond of his family, is, of itself, to say that, in private life at least, he is a good and trust-worthy man; aye, and in public life too, pretty much; for it is no easy matter to separate the two characters
[…]. There is nothing more amiable, nothing more delightful to behold, than a young man especially taking part in the work of nursing the children […].
The working man, in whatever line, and whether in town or country, who spends his day of rest, or any part of it, except in case of absolute necessity, away from his wife and children, is not worthy of the name of father, and is seldom worthy of the trust of any employer.
[…]many are but too prone to think, that when they have handed their children over to well-paid and able servants, they have done their duty by them, than which there can hardly be a more mischievous error. The children of the poorer people are, in general, much fonder of their parents than those of the rich are of theirs: this fondness is reciprocal; and the cause is, that the children of the former have, from their very birth, had a greater share than those of the latter […].
[…]keep the servants out of the house as long as possible; and when they must come at last, when they must be had even to assist in taking care of children, let them be assistants in the most strict sense of the word; let them not be confided in; let children never be left to them alone; and the younger the child, the more necessary a rigid adherence to this rule.
To provide fortunes for them; to make provision for their future fame; to give them the learning necessary to the calling for which you destine them: all these may be duties, and the last is a duty; but a duty far greater than, and prior to, all these, is the duty of neglecting nothing within your power to insure them a sane mind in a sound and undeformed body.
[…]never leave a young child to the care of servants? Never; no, not for one single hour.
We cast aside all consideration of convenience; all calculations of expense; all thoughts of pleasure of every sort.
In the rearing of children, there is resolution wanting as well as tenderness.
[…]the nurse subdued the voice of the child and made it quiet, by drowning its voice in hers, and thereby making it perceive that it could not be heard, and that to continue to cry was of no avail. […]A silent nurse is a poor soul. It is a great disadvantage to the child, if the mother be of a very silent, placid, quiet turn. The singing, the talking to, the tossing and rolling about, that mothers in general practise, are very beneficial to the children: they give them exercise, awaken their attention, animate them, and rouse them to action.
It is very bad to have a child even carried about by a dull, inanimate, silent servant, who will never talk, sing or chirrup to it; who will but just carry it about, always kept in the same attitude, and seeing and hearing nothing to give it life and spirit.
The washing daily in the morning is a great thing; cold water winter or summer, and this never left to a servant, who has not, in such a case, either the patience or the courage that is necessary for the task.
[…]“I can’t bear that squalling!” I have heard men say; and to which I answer, that “I can’t bear such men!”
I have, in wet weather, when could not go out, written the whole day amidst noise that would have made some authors half mad. It never annoyed me at all.
[…]That which you are pleased with, however noisy, does not disturb you. That which is indifferent to you has not more effect.
The cradle is in poor families necessary; because necessity compels the mother to get as much time as she can for her work, and a child can rock the cradle. At first we had a cradle
[…]. But we left off the use of the cradle as soon as possible. It causes sleep more, and oftener, than necessary: it saves trouble; but to take trouble was our duty. After the second child, we had no cradle, however difficult at first to do without it. […]it was generally my affair to put the child to sleep: sometimes by sitting with it in my arms, and sometimes by lying down on a bed with it, till it fell asleep. We soon found the good of this method. The children did not sleep so much, but they slept more soundly. The cradle produces a sort of dosing, or dreaming sleep.
From this very childhood they are from necessity entrusted with the care of something valuable.
The courage, of which I have spoken
[…]is, if possible, more necessary in cases of illness, requiring the application of medicine, or of surgical means of cure. Here the heart is put to the test indeed! Here is anguish to be endured by a mother, who has to force down the nauseous physic, or to apply the tormenting plaster! Yet it is the mother, or the father, and more properly the former, who is to perform this duty of exquisite pain. […]I do not admire those mothers who are too tender-hearted to inflict this pain on their children, and who, therefore, leave it to be inflicted by others.
[…]there is, in the management of babies, something besides life, health, strength and beauty; and something too, without which all these put together are nothing worth; and that is sanity of mind.
The first thing, in the rearing of children, who have passed from the baby-state, is, as to the body, plenty of good food; and, as to the mind, constant good example in the parents.
Every one knows, that to have fine horses, the colts must be kept well, and that it is the same with regard to all animals of every sort and kind. The fine horses and cattle and sheep all come from the rich pastures. To have them fine, it is not sufficient that they have plenty of food when young, but that they have rich food.
[…]It is the keep when young that makes the fine animal.
A tall man is, whether as labourer, carpenter, bricklayer, soldier or sailor, or almost anything else, worth more than a short man: he can look over a higher thing; he can reach higher and wider; he can move on from place to place faster; in mowing grass or corn he takes a wider swarth, in pitching he wants a shorter prong; in making buildings he does not so soon want a ladder or a scaffold; in fighting he keeps his body farther from the point of his sword. To be sure, a man may be tall and weak; but, this is the exception and not the rule: height and weight and strength, in men as in speechless animals, generally go together.
Children should eat often, and as much as they like at a time. They will, if at full heap, never take, of plain food, more than it is good for them to take.
[…]of meat plainly and well cooked, and of bread, they will never swallow the tenth part of an ounce more than it is necessary for them to swallow. Ripe fruit, or cooked fruit, if no sweetening take place, will never hurt them; but, when they once get a taste for sugary stuff, and to cram down loads of garden vegetables; when ices, creams, tarts, raisins, almonds, all the endless pamperings come, the doctor must soon follow with his drugs.
The blowing out of the bodies of children with tea, coffee, soup, or warm liquids of any kind, is very bad: these have an effect precisely like that which is produced by feeding young rabbits, or pigs, or other young animals upon watery vegetables: it makes them big-bellied and bare-boned at the same time; and it effectually prevents the frame from becoming strong.
Children in health want no drink other than skim milk, or butter-milk, or whey; and, if none of those be at hand, water will do very well, provided they have plenty of good meat. Cheese and butter do very well for part of the day. Puddings and pies; but always without sugar, which, say what people will about the wholesomeness of it, is not only of no use in the rearing of children, but injurious: it forces an appetite: like strong drink, it makes daily encroachments on the taste: it wheedles down that which the stomach does not want: it finally produces illness: it is one of the curses of the country
The next thing after good and plentiful and plain food is good air.
Besides sweet air, children want exercise. Even when they are babies in arms, they want tossing and pulling about, and want talking and singing to.
As to bodily exercise, they will, when they begin to get about, take, if you let them alone, just as much of it as nature bids them, and no more.
I was, at any rate, resolved to deserve such love at their hands; and, in possession of that, I felt that I could set calamity, of whatever description, at defiance.
I was resolved, that, as long as I could cause them to do it, my children should lead happy lives; and happy lives they did lead, if ever children did in this whole world.
[…]parents have no right thus to indulge their own feelings at the risk of the happiness of their children.
The great matter is, however, the spoiling of the mind by forcing on it thoughts which it is not fit to receive.
The mind, as well as the body, requires time to come to its strength; and the way to have it possess, at last, its natural strength, is not to attempt to load it too soon; and to favour it in its progress by giving to the body good and plentiful food, sweet air, and abundant exercise, accompanied with as little discontent or uneasiness as possible.
[…]I must here insist, and endeavour to impress my opinion upon the mind of every father, that his children’s happiness ought to be first object; that book-learning, if it tend to militate against this, ought to be disregarded; and that, as to money, as to fortune, as to rank and title, that father who can, in the destination of his children, think of them more than of the happiness of those children, is, if he be of sane mind, a great criminal.
[…]the possession of riches do not, never did, and never can, afford even a chance of additional happiness [.] […]make no sacrifice of principle, of moral obligation of any sort, in order to obtain riches, or distinction [.]
Being myself fond of book-learning, and knowing well its powers, I naturally wished them to possess it too; but never did I impose it upon any one of them. My first duty was to make them healthy and strong if I could, and to give them as much enjoyment of life as possible.
[…]I could safely take my oath, that I never ordered a child of mine, son or daughter, to look into a book, in my life.
What need had we of schools? What need of teachers? What need of scolding and force, to induce children to read, write, and love books? What need of cards, dice, or of any games, to “kill time;” but, in fact, to implant in the infant heart a love of gaming, one of the most destructive of all human vices? We did not want to “kill time;” we were always busy, wet weather or dry weather, winter or summer. There was no force in any case; no command; no authority; none of these was ever wanted.
The child that was down stairs first, was called the lark for that day; and, further, sat at my right hand at dinner. They soon discovered, that to rise early, they must go to bed early; and thus was this most important object secured
No beauty, no modesty, no accomplishments, are a compensation for the effects of laziness in women; and, of all the proofs of laziness, none is so unequivocal as that of lying late in bed. Love makes men overlook this vice (for it is a vice), for a while; but, this does not last for life. Besides, health demands early rising: the management of a house imperiously demands it
[…]to do the things I did, you must love home yourself; to rear up children in this manner, you must live with them; you must make them, too, feel, by your conduct, that you prefer this to any other mode of passing your time. […]I found time to talk with , to walk, or ride, about with them; and when forced to go from home, always took one or more with me. You must be good-tempered too with them; they must like your company better than any other person’s; they must not wish you away, not fear your coming back, not look upon your departure as a holiday.
[…]whatever appearances may say to the contrary, cruelty is always accompanied with cowardice, and also with perfidy, when that is called for by the circumstances of the case; and that habitual acts of cruelty to other creatures, will, nine times out of ten, produce, when the power is possessed, cruelty to human beings.
Children naturally want to be like their parents, and to do what they do
[…]. […]as I was always writing or reading, mine naturally desired to do something in the same way. But, at the same time, they heard no talk from fools or drinkers; saw me with no idle, gabbling, empty companions; saw no vain and affected coxcombs, and no tawdry and extravagant women; saw no nasty gormandizing; and heard no gabble about play-houses and romances and the other nonsense that fit boys to be lobby-loungers, and girls to be the ruin of industrious and frugal young men.
As to books, with the exception of the Poets, I never bought, in my whole life, any one that I did not want for some purpose of utility, and of practical utility too.
[…]if many a man, who says that he has not time to teach his children, were to sit down, in sincerity, with a pen and a bit of paper, and put down all the minutes, which he, in every twenty-four hours, wastes over the bottle, or over cheese and oranges and raisins and biscuits, after he has dined; how many he lounges away, either at the coffee-house or at home, over the useless part of newspapers; how many he spends in waiting for the coming and the managing of the tea-table; how many he passes by candle-light, wearied of his existence, when he might be in bed; how many he passes in the morning in bed, while the sun and dew shine and sparkle for him in vain: if he were to put all these together, and were to add those which he passes in the reading of books for his mere personal amusement, and without the smallest chance of acquiring from them any useful practical knowledge: if he were to sum up the whole of these, and add to them the time worse than wasted in the contemptible work of dressing off his person, he would be frightened at the result […].
If after all, however, a school must be resorted to, let it, if in your power, be as little populous as possible.
Jails, barracks, factories, do not corrupt by their walls, but by their condensed numbers. Populous cities corrupt from the same cause
If boys live only with boys, their ideas will continue to be boyish; if they see and hear and converse with nobody but boys, how are they to have the thoughts and the character of men? It is, at last, only by hearing men talk and seeing men act, that they learn to talk and act like men
[…]if, as I said before, a school there must be, let the congregation be as small as possible; and, do not expect too much from the master; for, if it be irksome to you to teach your own sons, what must that teaching be to him?
[…]what duty so sacred as that imposed on a mother to be the teacher of her daughters!
[…]whether as to boys or girls, I deprecate romances of every description. It is impossible that they can do any good, and they may do a great deal of harm. They excite passions that ought to lie dormant; they give the mind a taste for highly-seasoned matter; they make matters of real life insipid […].
In the “School for Scandal,” for instance, we see two brothers; the one a prudent and frugal man, and, to all appearance, a moral man, the other a hair-brained squanderer, laughing at the morality of his brother; the former turns out to be a base hypocrite and seducer, and is brought to shame and disgrace; while the latter is found to be full of generous sentiment, and Heaven itself seems to interfere to give him fortune and fame. In short, the direct tendency of the far greater part of these books, is, to cause young people to despise all those virtues
It is impossible for me, by any words that I can use, to express, to the extent of my thoughts, the danger of suffering young people to form their opinions from the writings of poets and romances. Nine times out of ten, the morality they teach is bad, and must have a bad tendency.
It is, therefore, the duty of every father, when he puts a book into the hands of his son or daughter, to give the reader a true account of who and what the writer of the book was, or is.
If a boy be intended for any particular calling, he ought, of course, to be induced to read books relating to that calling
[…]there are certain things, that all men in the middle rank of life, ought to know something of [.]These things are grammar, arithmetic, history, accompanied with geography […].
Of all history, that of our own country is of the most importance; because, for want of a thorough knowledge of what has been, we are, in many cases, at a loss to account for what is, and still more at a loss, to be able to show what ought to be.
It is always the object of those who have power in their hands, to persuade the people that they are better off than their forefathers were: it is the great business of history to show how this matter stands
[…]merely to read books, is not to be industrious, is not to study, and is not the way to become learned.
In short, a young man should bestow his time upon no book, the contents of which he cannot apply to some useful purpose.
The great fault of the present generation, is, that, in all ranks, the notions of self-importance are too high.
Rousseau observes, that men are happy, first, in proportion to their virtue, and next, in proportion to their independence
[…]there is one fatal error, against which every father ought to guard his heart; and the kinder that heart is, the more necessary such guardianship. I mean the fatal error of heaping upon one child, to the prejudice of the rest; or, upon a part of them.
When this vice, this love of the society of prostitutes; when this vice has once got fast hold, vain are all your sacrifices, vain your prayers, vain your hopes, vain your anxious desire to disguise the shame from the world
Letter VI: To the Citizen
The word citizen is not, in its application, confined to the mere inhabitants of cities: it means, a member of a civil society, or community
Time was when the inhabitants of this island, for instance, laid claim to all things in it, without the words owner or property being known. God had given to all the people all the land and all the trees, and every thing else, just as he has given the burrows and the grass to the rabbits, and the bushes and the berries to the birds; and each man had the good things of this world in a greater or less degree in proportion to his skill, his strength and his valour. This is what is called living under the Law of Nature; that is to say, the law of self-preservation and self-enjoyment, without any restraint imposed by a regard for the good of our neighbours.
In process of time, no matter from what cause, men made amongst themselves a compact, or an agreement, to divide the land and its products in such manner that each should have a share to his own exclusive use, and that each man should be protected in the exclusive enjoyment of his share by the united power of the rest; and, in order to ensure the due and certain application of this united power, the whole of the people agreed to be bound by regulations, called laws. Thus arose civil society; thus arose property; thus arose the words mine and thine. One man became possessed of more good things than another, because he was more industrious, more skilful, more careful, or more frugal: so that labour, of one sort or another, was the basis of all property.
[…]these truths are written on the heart of man: that all men are, by nature, equal; that civil society can never have arisen from any motive other than that of the benefit of the whole; that, whenever civil society makes the greater part of the people worse off than they were under the Law of Nature, the civil compact is, in conscience, dissolved, and all the rights of nature return; that, in civil society, the rights and the duties go hand in hand, and that, when the former are taken away, the latter cease to exist.
[…]we ought clearly to understand what our rights are; for, on our enjoyment of these depend our duties, rights going before duties, as value received goes before payment. […]The truth is, however, that the citizen’s first duty is to maintain his rights, as it is the purchaser’s first duty to receive the thing for which he has contracted.
Our rights in society are numerous; the right of enjoying life and property; the right of exerting our physical and mental powers in an innocent manner; but, the great right of all, and without which there is, in fact, no right, is, the right of taking a part in the making of the laws by which we are governed. This right is founded in that law of Nature spoken of above; it springs out of the very principle of civil society; for what compact, what agreement, what common assent, can possibly be imagined by which men would give up all the rights of nature, all the free enjoyment of their bodies and their minds, in order to subject themselves to rules and laws, in the making of which they should have nothing to say
Men stained with indelible crimes are excluded , because they have forfeited their right by violating the laws, to which their assent has been given. Insane persons are excluded, because they are dead in the eye of the law, because the law demands no duty at their hands, because they cannot violate the law, because the law cannot affect them; and, therefore, they ought to have no hand in making it
Property sprang from labour, and not labour from property
Is there any man so barbarous as to say, that these men ought, merely on account of their misfortunes, to be deprived of their political rights?
There are always men enough to plead the cause of the rich; enough and enough to echo the woes of the fallen great; but, be it your part to show compassion for those who labour, and to maintain their rights. Poverty is not a crime, and, though it sometimes arises from faults, it is not, even in that case, to be visited by punishment beyond that which it brings with itself.
[…]there shall always be some very poor people. This is inevitable from the very nature of things.
To those who labour, we, who labour not with our hands, owe all that we eat, drink and wear; all that shades us by day and that shelters us by night; all the means of enjoying health and pleasure
A slave is, in the first place, a man who has no property; and property means something that he has, and that nobody can take from him without his leave, or consent.
A slave has no property in his labour; and any man who is compelled to give up the fruit of his labour to another, at the arbitrary will of that other, has no property in his labour, and is, therefore, a slave, whether the fruit of his labour be taken from him directly or indirectly.
It is, in no case, the flesh and blood and bones that are sold, but the labour; and, if you actually sell the labour of man, is not that man a slave, though you sell it for only a short time at once?
Every one knows, that public property is never so well taken care of as private property; and this, too, on the maxim, that “that which is every body’s business is nobody’s business.”
What does the real patriot want more than to feel conscious that he has done his duty towards his country; and that, if life should not allow him time to see his endeavours crowned with success, his children will see it?
wish very well to their country, because they want some of the good for themselves.
Very natural that all men should wish to see the good arrive, and wish to share in it too; but, we must look on the dark side of nature to find the disposition to cast blame on the whole community because our wishes are not instantly accomplished, and especially to cast blame on others for not doing that which we ourselves dare not attempt.
“With English and French on your tongue and in your pen, you have a resource, not only greatly valuable in itself, but a resource that you can be deprived of by none of those changes and chances which deprive men of pecuniary possessions, and which, in some cases, make the purse-proud man of yesterday a crawling sycophant to-day. Health, without which life is not worth having, you will hardly fail to secure by early rising, exercise, sobriety, and abstemiousness as to food. Happiness, or misery, is in the mind. It is the mind that lives; and the length of life ought to be measured by the number and importance of our ideas, and not by the number of our days. Never, therefore, esteem men merely on account of their riches or their station. Respect goodness, find it where you may. Honour talent wherever you behold it unassociated with vice; but, honour it most when accompanied with exertion, and especially when exerted in the cause of truth and justice; and, above all things, hold it in honour, when it steps forward to protect defenceless innocence against the attacks of powerful guilt.”
Be just, be industrious, be sober, and be happy
Read the whole book: Advice to Young Men.
I’m Jens Oliver Meiert, and I’m an engineering manager and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to the W3C and the WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. Other than that, I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.
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