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Title: Advice to a Young Man upon First Going to Oxford - In Ten Letters, From an Uncle to His Nephew
Author: Berens, Edward, 1777?-1859?
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Advice to a Young Man upon First Going to Oxford - In Ten Letters, From an Uncle to His Nephew" ***






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  St. John's Square.

I have long thought that a book was wanted, of the nature of that which
I have here attempted. How far I have succeeded in the attempt, the
public will determine.

I have had,--have at present,--and (if I live,) expect to have
hereafter,--several nephews at Oxford; all having to make their own way
in the world, and all, consequently, having abundant reason for being
economical, both of their time and of their money, during their
residence at the University. These Letters were not addressed to any one
of them in particular, but are intended, like some official documents,
"for all whom they may concern." Perhaps I had more especially in view,
those of them who are destined for my own profession.

  E. B.


  LETTER.                                              PAGE.

     I. Sense of Religion                                 1

    II. Choice of Friends                                13

   III. Conversation                                     27

    IV. Against yielding to the Influence of Numbers     45

     V. Improvement of Time                              55

    VI. Punctuality                                      72

   VII. Amusements                                       85

  VIII. Expenses, and running into Debt                  99

    IX. Temperance                                      114

     X. English Reading                                 137




It gives me sincere pleasure to hear that you have actually become a
member of the University of Oxford. This satisfaction, perhaps, may in
some degree be attributed to the pleasing recollection of my own Oxford
life, but certainly it arises principally from anticipation of the
substantial benefits which you, I trust, will derive from your connexion
with that seat of learning. At the same time, I will own that my
satisfaction is not entirely unmixed with something like apprehension.
An University education has many and great advantages, but it also is
attended with many temptations;--temptations to which too many young men
have yielded, sometimes to the great injury of their character, and the
utter ruin of all their future prospects.

In fact, you are now entering upon the most important period--the
_turning point_--of your whole life. You have become, in a great
measure, your own master. For though you will be under a certain degree
of discipline and _surveillance_, yet in a multiplicity of cases you
will have to act for yourself--to take your own line. You will have to
contend against the allurements of pleasure and dissipation, and you
have just reached the age when the natural passions and appetites become
most impatient of restraint. At the same time, you will be exposed to
the influence both of the example and of the solicitations of lively
young men, who will try to carry you along with them in their career of
thoughtlessness and folly, and who will think it strange, and _show_ you
that they think it strange, if you run not with them to the same excess
of riot. Against all these moral trials and temptations, your best
safeguard will be found in a strong sense of religion, kept habitually
present to your mind. You must endeavour, according to the language of
Scripture--(and in writing to you I shall always gladly make use of the
very words of Scripture, when they suit my purpose, as having a force
and an authority which no other words can possess)--you must endeavour
to _set the Lord always before you_. Never for a moment forget that you
are continually in the presence of that awful Being, who can, and who
will, call you to a strict account for all that you do amiss. Nothing
can excuse your forgetting Him.

If you at all believe in a Supreme Being, the Creator and Governor of
the world; if you believe that God is, and that he is a rewarder of them
that diligently seek him, and at the same time an avenger to execute
wrath upon every soul that doeth evil, the least particle of common
sense or common feeling will tell you, that nothing should be put in
competition with his will. When his will is clear, it _must_ be obeyed
without hesitation. I am sure that you will assent to this. If religion
is any thing, it is _every thing_. It is, indeed, the one thing needful,
in comparison with which every thing else sinks into insignificance,
into nothingness.

Endeavour, then, to keep up in your mind and heart this habitual sense
of religion by every means in your power. It will require from you
considerable care and attention. The lively spirits natural to your time
of life, and the thoughtless levity of some of the young men into whose
society you will be thrown, will have a tendency to make you think less
of religion, if not to induce you entirely to forget it. Be ever on your
guard against thus swerving from your allegiance to your Creator.

Nothing will contribute more to preserve you from this danger than
regularity and earnestness in your private devotions. When you rise in
the morning, seek from God spiritual strength to enable you to resist
and overcome the temptations to which you may be exposed during the day.
Every night implore his forgiveness for your many failings and
transgressions, and his protection against the dangers which surround
you. Suffer nothing to induce you to neglect private prayer.

You will of course be required every day to attend chapel. Consider
such attendance not as an irksome duty, not as a mere matter of routine
and college discipline, but try to regard it as a privilege, and to take
a real interest and pleasure in it. Acquire the habit of joining
fervently in the prayers, and of constantly deriving from the lessons
and other portions of Scripture, the doctrinal and practical instruction
which they were intended to convey. Many college chapels are furnished
with Greek Testaments and Septuagints. You will judge from experience,
whether following the lessons in the Greek assists in fixing your
attention, or whether it diverts it from the matter to the language. My
own opinion is in favour of the practice.

Make a point of giving to Sunday as much of a religious character as
you can. I am not recommending a Jewish strictness. Let Sunday be a day
of cheerfulness; but let your reading and your thoughts, as far as may
be, partake of the sacred character of the day.

The study of the Scriptures constitutes an important part of your
preparation for your degree. This study will furnish an appropriate
employment for a considerable portion of the Sunday. Always attend the
University Sermons. I recommend this not merely as a branch of
academical discipline, but as a means of religious and intellectual
improvement. The sermon will generally, I believe, be worth attending
to. The select preachers are chosen, for the most part, from the ablest
men in the University; men, several of whom are likely hereafter to fill
the highest stations in the Church. You will seldom be driven to have
recourse to the advice of the pious Nicole in his Essay, "_des moyens de
profiter de mauvais sermons_." The various modes in which different
preachers enforce or illustrate the same great truths, and the
diversities of their style and manner, may afford you matter--not of
ill-natured criticism--but of useful reflection. Some colleges require
their under-graduates to give every week in writing a summary of the
sermon which they have heard at St. Mary's. If you adopt this practice,
you will find it contribute greatly to fix your attention, and to give
you a habit of arranging and expressing your ideas with facility and
readiness. Of course, some preachers deserve this steadiness of
attention much more than others.

It is, I trust, unnecessary to remind you of the duty of receiving the
Lord's Supper, whenever it is administered in your college chapel. In
some colleges, nearly all the under-graduates partake of this ordinance;
in others, I believe, almost all neglect it: at least this was the case
formerly. In such and similar cases, you must be guided, not by common
practice, not by the example of numbers, but by what you know to be your
duty. If you feel any doubt or difficulty, frankly mention it to your
tutor. There are, I am persuaded, few tutors now in Oxford, who would
not be able and willing to assist you with their advice.

This attention to your religious duties need not be attended by any
preciseness or austerity of manner. On the contrary, I should wish you
to be at all times cheerful and good humoured, ready to take part in any
innocent gaiety. My object is to impress upon you the absolute necessity
of always putting religion in the _first place_. If you really believe
what you profess to believe, do not hesitate as to shewing it in your
conduct. Never be so weak as to be ashamed of doing what you know to be
your duty. Never be guilty of such unmanly cowardice as to be ashamed
of avowing your allegiance to your Creator and your Redeemer.

  I remain,
  My dear Nephew,
  Your affectionate Uncle.




Among the many advantages of an University, few rank higher, both in
general estimation and in reality, than the opportunity which it affords
of forming valuable and lasting friendships. Indeed this advantage can
hardly be rated too highly. I look back to the intimacies which I
contracted at college, as among the greatest blessings of a life, which
has been eminently blessed in various ways. I still hold intercourse
with many of my Oxford friends, whose characters and attainments do
honour to the place where their education and their minds were matured.
And even the recollection of most of those, who have been removed from
this lower world, is attended with a soothing melancholy, which partakes
more of pleasure and thankfulness for having enjoyed their society, than
of pain. _The memory of the just is blessed[14:1]._

I hope, my dear nephew, that you will improve this advantage to the
utmost. In your intimacies, however, endeavour to be guided rather by
judgment than by mere fancy. Sameness of pursuits, similarity of
dispositions and inclinations generally contribute much to throw men
together; but be careful not to attach yourself to any man as a
_friend_, unless he is a man of moral worth, and of real religious
principle. Intimacy with a man who is unrestrained by religion, _must_
be attended with great danger. Your own natural appetites will
continually solicit you to forbidden indulgences, and will not be kept
in due subjection without difficulty. If their solicitations are
seconded by the example and by the conversations of an intimate
associate, your peril will be extreme. Intimacy with a man of bad
principles and immoral character, may utterly blast all your prospects
of happiness both in this world and the next.

You will of course have the greater power of _selection_, if your
general acquaintance is pretty extensive. I acknowledge, that my opinion
is rather in favour of your forming an extensive acquaintance, provided
that you never suffer it to encroach upon your time, or to lead you into
any compromise of religious principle. Going to the University
constitutes a sort of entrance into the world, an introduction to manly
life; but this advantage is lost if you seclude yourself altogether from
society. In order, however, to acquire or to retain such an
acquaintance, your manners and general demeanour must be acceptable or

One of the first requisites, in order to be thus acceptable, is the
neglect, the forgetfulness of _self_--a readiness to put _self_ in the
back-ground. Any obtrusion of self, any appearance of self-love,
self-interest, self-conceit, or self-applause, tends to expose a man to
dislike, perhaps to contempt.

One way in which this disregard, this abandonment of self, must show
itself, is real unaffected humility. Most of the external forms and
modes of modern politeness, its bows and obeisances, its professions of
respect and service, its adulations, are nothing but an affectation of
such humility, and bear witness to its value when it exists in reality.
When it does so exist, and still is free from any servility of manner,
any unworthy compliances, nothing contributes more to make a man
acceptable and popular in society. It inflicts no unnecessary wounds on
any one's pride or self-love. And, you will observe, that it is the
temper and behaviour, inculcated by the general spirit and by the
particular precepts of religion, which bids us _in honour to prefer one
another_; and says, _in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better
than himself_.

Another requisite is, a willingness to please and to be pleased. Some
men seem to think it beneath them, and a mark of littleness of mind, to
wish or to try to please any body, and wrap themselves up in a cold
superciliousness. Others seem determined never to be pleased with any
thing or any person, but are always finding fault. They have no eye
for, no perception of, merits or beauties, either external or internal,
but are keen and quick-sighted in detecting blemishes, and eloquent in
exaggerating them[20:1]. If any person's good qualities, or any work of
art or of genius is commended, they are sure to throw in some
observations calculated to depreciate and disparage them. And with
respect even to the works of Nature, and the dispensations of
Providence, they are more ready to see and to point out evils, than to
acknowledge advantages. This temper--this habit of disparagement--is
certainly very unamiable; and justly offensive, not only to those who
are run down by it as its immediate objects, but to all who witness it.
A man who consults his own comfort, or the comfort of those with whom he
associates, should be disposed to make the best of every thing. I would
by no means wish him in the slightest degree to compromise truth, or to
make the remotest approach to flattery; but I would have him see every
thing in the most favourable point of view, and disposed to pursue and
to dwell upon what is good rather than upon what is bad. Too much of
that which is bad is sure to be forced upon our attention, without our
taking any pains to look out for it.

Be always on your guard against hurting the feelings, or even shocking
the prejudices, of those with whom you associate. A little observation,
and some attention to your own feelings in similar circumstances, will
soon teach you what is likely to be annoying to others. Make every
allowance for their self-love, and for attachment to their own opinions.

Never give unnecessary pain or mortification. It is _unnecessary_, when
it can be avoided without compromising the consistency of your own
character, or hazarding the interests of religion and of truth.

In short, my dear nephew, if you will study St. Paul's account of the
nature and properties of charity, and regulate your temper and your
behaviour accordingly, you will want little in order to be a perfect
gentleman, in the highest sense of the word. I will not enter upon this
account in detail, but must refer you to Fenelon's excellent book on
this subject, if it should come in your way, or even to my own
Sermon[22:1]. Give me your attention, however, for a minute or two, to a
few slight remarks upon charity--merely as it bears upon our conduct in

_Charity suffereth long_--μακροθυμει--it bears patiently with other
men's defects of temper, discourteousness of behaviour, and awkwardness
of manner; and is _kind_, gentle, and obliging--χρηστευεται.

Charity envieth not--ου ζηλοι. It is free from those little jealousies,
and rivalries, and emulations, which, where they are admitted, sometimes
give sourness to the temper, and bitterness to the behaviour.

Charity _vaunteth not itself_--ου περευεται; it is not rash or over
hasty; it is not overbearing, positive, and peremptory, in language or
manner; _is not puffed up_--ου φυσιουται; is not inflated with an
opinion of its own worth or consequence; and, that being the case, it
doth not behave itself unseemly--ουκ ασχημονει; it does not treat
other men with disdain and superciliousness.

Charity _seeketh not her own_--ου ζητει τα ἑαυτης--that is, she is not
_selfish_. Charity neglects not altogether her own concerns, or her own
interests, but does not attend to them exclusively; does not _so_ attend
to them, as to be unmindful of, or inattentive to, the interests and
welfare of others.

Charity is not easily provoked--ου παροξυνεται. Nothing more
disturbs the peace and comfort of society than the being easily
provoked. When a man is touchy and waspish, he is always looking out
for, and catching at, occasions of offence.

Charity rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; it does
not take pleasure in hearing of misdoings and evil conduct, but
delights in accounts of praiseworthy actions, and in the spread of sound
religious principles.

Charity _beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things,
endureth all things_; παντα στεγει, παντα πιστευει, παντα ελπιζει, παντα

I will not, my dear nephew, lengthen a long letter, by endeavouring to
point out the precise meaning of these expressions. You may understand
from them, that charity is patient of ill-usage; that instead of being
suspicious and disposed to cavil and carp at every thing, it is open and
ingenuous, ready to give men credit for speaking the truth, when there
is no good reason to think otherwise; and that it is disposed to hope
the best, to think as favourably as it can of those with whom it comes
in contact; and if it cannot actually think well of them at present, to
_hope_ for their amendment and reformation.

I think you will agree with me, that a man influenced by this spirit
would be an acceptable man in society, and that the best practical
Christian would be the best gentleman[26:1].

  I remain,
  Your affectionate Uncle.


[14:1] Prov. x. 7.

[20:1] See Numbers 72, 74, and 98, of the Rambler.

[22:1] See Village Sermons.

[26:1] See Jones's Letters from a Tutor to his Pupils.




I take it for granted, that upon first going from school to Oxford, and
entering into society different, in many respects, from any that you
have hitherto been accustomed to, you feel some of that shyness which
belongs to the character of most Englishmen. I should be sorry if you
did not. You probably feel diffident, too, of your ability to bear your
part in general conversation, and an apprehension of being, on that
account, set down as a stupid fellow. But don't be uneasy. More young
men, I am persuaded, hurt themselves by talking too much, than by
talking too little. When a fresh-man, at first starting, is quite at his
ease, and talks readily upon any subject that happens to be uppermost,
some of his companions may be amused at his coolness, but most of them
will be disgusted. If, by your look and manner, you show that you are
alive to what is said by others, and now and then throw in a remark, not
destitute of meaning, you will be more generally popular than one of
those random talkers. Men of a certain standing, qualified by their
liveliness or by their information to bear a leading part in
conversation, do not like to see an undue share of it engrossed by
others, especially by a mere youngster. They greatly prefer a good
listener to a ready talker.

Young practitioners in Doctors' Commons have, I believe, to pass through
their year of silence, before they are allowed to speak. During the
period of silence, they quietly observe, and become acquainted with, the
usages and practice of the court. Something similar to this period of
quiet observation, might not be inexpedient for a noviciate in society.
At all events, never talk for talking's sake; never speak unless you
have something to say worth attending to.

You will, I am sure, my dear nephew, take it in good part, if I point
out a few of the conversational faults, of which young men are apt to be
guilty. It is natural that we should talk most of that in which we are
most interested. Now, of all things in the world, a young man feels most
interested in _himself_. But if, in consequence of such feeling, he
ventures to talk much of himself, of his own habits, his own pursuits,
his own feelings, his own achievements, he will very soon be set down as
a bore and a conceited coxcomb. A young man naturally feels a strong
interest, an interest increased by separation, in his own immediate
family. This feeling, with some young men, is so deep, that they shun
the mention of any thing closely connected with their _home_ as a sort
of profanation, a desecration of things sacred. With others, this
feeling takes the opposite direction, and leads them--_celebrare
domestica facta_--to introduce the concerns of their own nearest
relations into the conversation of a mixed party. Take care that you
never are guilty of such a violation of good taste and correct judgment.
Interesting as your home and its inmates are to _you_, nothing can well
be less interesting to those, who are unacquainted with them. It will be
a stretch of courtesy and good-nature, if they tolerate the mention of
them without some expression either of ridicule or of distaste. If you
speak of your home-concerns at all, let it be only to one or two
intimate friends, who, from the regard which they feel for _you_, may be
supposed to take an interest in all belonging to you.

Be on your guard against getting into the habit of telling long stories:
they generally are tiresome. Many circumstances, in addition to the
feeling that you have them to tell, may give them a consequence in your
eyes, which they do not in reality possess. Lively anecdotes, or short
narratives, told with spirit, are among the most amusing ingredients in
conversation; but even with them, if you often meet the same company,
there is considerable danger of falling into repetition.

Never be guilty of falling into the too common practice of indulging in
scandal, the practice of talking of men disparagingly, of running down
their character behind their backs. I by no means wish you to flatter
any man, whether present or absent, or to speak favourably of character
or of conduct which does not deserve it. But beware of _detraction_.
Nothing is more unamiable in any man, especially in a _young_ man; and,
what is of infinitely more consequence, nothing is more opposite to the
spirit and the precepts of religion, which repeatedly enjoins us to
_speak evil of no man_. Bear in mind the advice of one of the most
sagacious and penetrating observers of human nature:--_Whether it be to
a friend or foe, talk not of other men's lives; and if thou canst,
without offence, reveal them not[34:1]._ _If thou canst without
offence_;--circumstances may require that the truth should be
revealed,--that the real truth should be spoken and made known, even
though it should be injurious,--though it should be absolutely fatal to
another man's character. But do not take pleasure in telling any thing
to another's prejudice; do not make the tearing of a character in pieces
a matter of amusement. By such conduct you would not only be guilty of a
gross violation of Christian charity, but will probably bring yourself
into many scrapes in a worldly point of view. In a mixed company, there
may chance to be some friend or connexion of him, whom you are running
down; or, at all events, what you say will be repeated,--_a bird of the
air will carry the matter_,--till it comes to the ears of the injured
person. And what will be the consequence? A feeling of aversion and
dislike, a spirit of hostility to you, will, not unnaturally, be
engendered, both in him and in such of his friends and connections as
are acquainted with the circumstance.

One of the most unwarrantable kinds or forms of detraction, is the
attributing of any man's conduct to corrupt or unworthy motives. A man's
real motives are known only to God and to himself; indeed, very often
to God _alone_, as from the deceitfulness and intricacy of the human
heart, a man himself is sometimes ignorant as to what his real motives
actually are. Certainly it is rash and presumptuous for any other man to
pretend to decide upon them, and most uncharitable and unjust to
pronounce them to be corrupt, when they are capable of a favourable
interpretation. Express your disapprobation of unworthy actions as
strongly as you please; but beware of rash and uncharitable censure, and
especially beware of the presumption of imputing to any corrupt and evil

As I have cautioned you against violating Christian charity in
conversation, so I must warn you against infringing on Christian
purity. You have arrived at a period of life, when your utmost care and
vigilance will be requisite, to keep your natural passions and appetites
within proper bounds. Indeed, all your care will be ineffectual unless
assisted by Divine grace. Do not take part in conversation which is
calculated to add to their importunity or to their strength. Thoughtless
young men, under the influence of these feelings, sometimes indulge in
_foolish talking and jesting_[37:1], of most pernicious tendency, and
most inconsistent with the Christian character. Avoid and discourage
conversation of this nature, so far as you possibly can. Do not add
fuel to a flame which already burns but too fiercely. _Fools make a mock
at sin_[38:1]; and none but _fools_ should be capable of making a joke
of temptations and vices, which in themselves are awfully serious, which
lead on to eternal ruin.

I hope you will never be so unfortunate, as to fall much into the
company of men, who make a jest of religion, or of any thing connected
with religion. Those who are bent upon following the guidance of their
own appetites, and their own wills, naturally dislike that which would
check and restrain them. They are consequently apt to become
_scoffers_, and to attempt to turn religion and its sanctions into
ridicule. Avoid the society and conversation of such men, as you would
avoid the plague. If unhappily thrown among them, discountenance them to
the utmost.

Do not indulge yourself in a habit of raillery or banter. Raillery is a
difficult thing to manage well, and very apt both to give pain to him
who is the object of it, and to reflect discredit on him who attempts
it. Sometimes you see one or two young men, of more liveliness than
sense, picking out some quiet person in company as a _butt_, at which
they may point their wit, and carrying on an attack of banter and
ridicule. This is, probably, not only annoying to him, but tiresome and
painful to all the right feeling men who chance to be present.

I am glad to join in, or to witness, a honest hearty laugh, when any
thing really calls for it. Beware, however, of the practice of laughing
when there is nothing to laugh at. Some people fall into a way of giving
the accompaniment of a laugh to almost every thing that they utter,
especially if they have any direct intention to be jocular. This habit
is disagreeable to most of those who witness it. It proceeds, I believe,
generally from a sort of shyness and awkwardness contracted in early
youth, and is, as I know from experience, difficult to get rid of. It
certainly is inconsistent with the manners and habits of good society.
Be always the last to laugh at your own jokes, or your own _good_
stories. If they are really worth laughing at, the company will find it
out, and by premature or excessive laughter you will mar their effect.

As you get on in society, you will probably often fall into discussion
and argument. When this is the case, take care not to be too positive or
peremptory in your manner. Be solicitous to allow their full weight to
the arguments of your antagonist. Do not suffer the impression of the
force and correctness of your own reasoning, to render you blind to what
is urged against you. Above all, keep your temper. If you lose your
temper, victory will be deprived of its credit, and defeat will be more
disgraceful. At the same time you will run a double chance of being
defeated, without having the wit to see, or the manliness to own it.
Believe me, my dear nephew, (to adopt the very words of one of the most
sagacious and distinguished of modern statesmen) "that the arms with
which the ill dispositions of the world are to be combated, and the
qualities by which it is to be reconciled to us, and we reconciled to
it, are moderation, gentleness, a little indulgence to others, and a
great deal of distrust of ourselves; which are not qualities of a mean
spirit, as some may possibly think them, but virtues of a great and
noble kind, and such as dignify our nature as much as they contribute to
our repose and fortune; for nothing can be so unworthy of a
well-composed soul, as to pass away life in bickerings and litigations,
in snarling and scuffling with every one about us. Again and again, my
dear,--we must be at peace with our species; if not for their sakes, yet
very much for our own[43:1]."

But my letter grows long, and I must hasten to conclude it. Read
repeatedly Cowper's lively poem on conversation, which seems to me to
have much of the spirit and accurate moral taste of Horace, with the
elevation derived from Christianity. Read, too, if you can lay your hand
on it, Bishop Horne's paper on conversation, in the Olla Podrida. In
these two essays you will find many of the sentiments which I have
expressed, only given in a much more engaging manner. In the 78th and
83d Numbers of the Idler, many common faults in conversation are exposed
with a degree of humour, in which our great moralist did not very
frequently indulge.

  I remain,
  My dear Nephew,
  Your affectionate Uncle.


[34:1] Ecclus. xix. 8.

[37:1] Ephes. v. 4. and Coloss. iii. 8.

[38:1] Prov. xiv. 9.

[43:1] Prior's Life of Burke, p. 215. Second edition.




When I advised you to fall in, so far as you reasonably can, with the
wishes and inclinations of those with whom you associate, you
understood, I trust, that compliance should never go so far, as to
involve the slightest sacrifice of truth or of principle. When carried
to this culpable extent, it becomes an instance of weak and unmanly

One of the greatest dangers to which young men are exposed upon their
first entrance into the world, is that which arises from their readiness
to be swayed by the example or by the persuasion of their companions.
The example, and still more the persuasion, of a single individual, is
sometimes not without difficulty resisted, and the difficulty of
resistance is greatly increased by the influence of numbers. A young man
dreads the imputation of singularity. He cannot bear to stand out
against the example, perhaps the solicitations, of those among whom he
lives. He suffers himself, therefore, to be carried along by the stream,
and led into conduct, of which, in his conscience, he utterly

Never, my dear nephew, do you be guilty of such weakness. Avoid
singularity, whenever it can be avoided with innocence: an affectation
of singularity for singularity's sake, generally proceeds from conceit
or self-sufficiency. But where the path of duty is clear, let no example
or persuasion induce you to swerve from it. Keep ever impressed upon
your mind the admonition of Scripture, _Thou shalt not follow a
multitude to do evil_.

Never suffer yourself to be laughed out of what is right. Never be
ashamed of adhering to what you know to be your duty. In matters of duty
keep in mind the words of Scripture, _Fear ye not the reproach of men,
neither be afraid of their revilings_. Never expose yourself to the
censure justly cast upon those who value the praise or the approbation
of men,--of giddy, thoughtless, sensual men, more than the praise of
God. Remember, my dear nephew, the solemn warning of our Lord: _If any
man shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful
generation, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed when he cometh in his
glory with his holy angels_.

In your steady adherence to the dictates of conscience, you will always
find some who will respect you for it; or, even if you should stand
alone, like Abdiel, "among the faithless, the only faithful," you will
be supported by the testimony of your own heart, and by an humble
confidence in the approbation of the Almighty. One or two instances may,
probably, make my meaning more clear.

Perhaps a few joyous spirits have devised some scheme of irregular,
sensual gratification,--of Bacchanalian revelry;--or, perhaps, two or
three dunces, whose intellects and moral feelings are of such a stamp,
as to render them rather impracticable subjects for academical
discipline, have contrived some plan of impotent resistance to the
college authorities, or some plot of petty and vexatious annoyance, in
order to give vent to their mortification, when such silly resistance
has been proved to be ineffectual. Wishing for the screen or protection
of numbers, they will try to persuade their companions, that they will
be wanting in manly spirit, or in social feeling, if they refuse to join
them. And is there, after all, any thing so very _spirited_, any thing
of high-minded and noble daring in behaviour, which seeks to screen
itself by concealment and subterfuge, and which, if detected, braves,
not any personal danger or suffering, but merely the terrors of an
imposition? If the offence is so aggravated as to entail the heavier
penalty, rustication, or expulsion, such punishment inflicts, indeed,
severe grief upon the parents and friends of the offender; but he
himself, with the short-sightedness of folly, perhaps almost enjoys the
idleness and the freedom from academical restraint, to which rustication
consigns him. A young Oxonian is apt to feel very indignant if not
treated by deans and tutors, as a man and as a gentleman; but has he any
right to expect to be so treated, if he condescends to adopt the
practices of a mischievous or a truant school boy?

I am no friend to the unnecessary imposition of oaths; but, I own, I do
not see how any thing like deliberate and systematic opposition to
academical authority, can be reconciled with the oath of academical
obedience taken by every freshman. I know well that the usual
construction of that oath,--(I doubt not the legitimate
construction)--is, that the person who takes it will obey the statutes,
or submit to the penalty imposed upon the infraction of them. I am
aware, too, that the violation of the strict letter of many of the
statutes is acquiesced in, and almost sanctioned, by those in authority;
but surely a _deliberate_ and _contumacious_ contravention of the
statutes, accompanied by a natural endeavour to evade punishment, is
hardly consistent with the spirit of the oath. Certainly it is
inconsistent with the spirit of Christianity, which everywhere
inculcates a dutiful submission to the constituted authorities; a
compliance, in all things lawful, with the regulations of the place in
which we are, and of the society which has received us among its
members. No man is compelled to go to the University; but if he does go
thither, he should make up his mind to comply with its rules, during the
short period of his residence.

Perhaps, my dear nephew, you may think that I have all this time been
combating, or, rather, seeking to _lay_, a phantom of my own raising;
that I have been making mole-hills into mountains; or, like Don Quixote,
turning wind-mills into giants: but, in my long Oxford life, I have
heard of so many instances of the silly behaviour of which I have been
speaking, that I wish to put you on your guard against it. True
manliness consists in adhering to what you think to be right. In
keeping steadily to the path of duty, notwithstanding the solicitations,
or the taunts, or the ridicule of your associates, there is more proper
spirit and moral courage, than in braving the rebuke or the impositions
of a dean or a proctor.

  I remain,
  My dear Nephew,
  Your affectionate Uncle.




I trust that you are now hard at work. I can figure you with your
Herodotus before you, your Scapula on one side, and your maps on the
other, _setting-to_ in good earnest. You have, I am sure, fully
determined to make the most of your time. The time which you must
necessarily pass in Oxford, in order to take your bachelor's degree, is
but little after all. Your whole actual residence, during the three
years, will probably not much exceed a year and a half. Certainly, of
this _modicum_ of time you cannot afford to waste any portion. Make a
point of devoting it to real study, to real strenuous exertion. You owe
this to yourself--to your own credit and character; you owe it to your
parents, who have probably put themselves to some pecuniary
inconvenience, in order to give you the advantage of an Oxford
education; you owe it to God, to whom you are responsible for the
employment of your time, as well as for the proper use of your other
talents. Fix in your mind and memory the lesson taught you by the
sun-dial in the Quadrangle at All Souls--"_Pereunt et imputantur_;" or
that of another similar monitor--"_Ab hoc momento pendet æternitas_."
Take time for exercise; take time for relaxation; but make steady
reading your object and your business. Do not be so weak, or so unmanly,
or so vain, as to be ashamed of being known to read. You went to Oxford
on purpose to study; why should you be ashamed of keeping that purpose
in view?

In the choice of your studies, be guided implicitly by the advice of
your tutor. Very likely you may not see the use of some branches of
science, or of reading some particular books. But do not fancy that in
such matters you are wiser than older men, who have maturely considered
these things again and again. If you mean to be your own guide and your
own teacher, you had better have staid away from Oxford altogether. It
is one great advantage of academical education, that a definite course
of reading is marked out for you. When a young man,--indeed, when _any_
man,--is left entirely to his own choice, he is apt to be distracted by
the many different branches of study, the many different books, which
present themselves, and to fall into a habit of desultory reading,
productive of little lasting benefit. You are saved from this
distraction and perplexity, throwing upon other shoulders the trouble
and responsibility of making a proper choice.

I believe almost every tutor now in Oxford, will direct his pupils to
devote a certain portion of their time to the highest of all
studies--the study of religion. Some knowledge of religion is absolutely
indispensable, in order to pass your examination for your degree. But
independently of all academical objects, you cannot help feeling
satisfied that time so employed, is employed well and wisely. Such
study, with the blessing of God upon it, will be beneficial to you
through the whole of your future existence, both in this world and the

Among the many advantages of an university education, must be reckoned
the opportunity of attending public lectures, such lectures especially,
as are illustrated, by an expensive philosophical apparatus, or by the
inspection of actual specimens. The experiments conducted by means of
such apparatus, and the handing round of specimens, are not only
absolutely essential, oftentimes, to the comprehension of the science to
which they belong, but contribute powerfully to fix it in the memory. If
you can spare the time from your severer studies, and if your tutor does
not disapprove, I should strongly advise you to attend in succession the
lectures on natural philosophy,--on chemistry,--on mineralogy,--and on
geology. Some acquaintance with these sciences, is in itself so
interesting and useful, and is now so general, that you ought not, I
think, to miss your present opportunity of acquiring it: so favourable
an opportunity you will hardly meet with again.

Much may be done by a judicious distribution of your time. When you have
made such a distribution, keep to it steadily. Be peremptory with
yourself in adhering to it, and be peremptory in preventing others from
encroaching upon it,--from encroaching upon it, at least, unnecessarily.
I suppose that, upon the average, you may get four or five hours' steady
reading before dinner, and three or four after. This will leave you
abundant time for exercise, for relaxation, and for society. Certainly
it will not spare you any for mere _lounging_; either for lounging
yourself, or being lounged upon by others. If you cannot avoid the
latter by any other means, you will be reduced to the alternative of
shutting your door, or, if that term is still in use, of _sporting oak_
against them. If they reproach you, set them, as their punishment, to
read the paper in the Idler on the robbery of time[62:1].

Either of your time, or of your money, waste as little as possible upon
newspapers. I admit, that of all periods of history, the time in which
we actually live is, _to us_, the most interesting. I admit that, both
with a view to your taking part in the conversation of general society,
as well as upon other accounts, some knowledge of passing events is
desirable, or even necessary. For such purposes, a rapid glance at the
newspaper, or even what is picked up by hearsay, will, generally
speaking, be sufficient. While reading for your degree, however, you
really cannot spare time to read the newspapers _through_. The most
important portions of them are, perhaps, the debates during the session
of parliament, and the trials. Of the debates, a considerable part is
very trifling and unprofitable; and, in order to read with real
advantage those speeches which are most deserving of attention, it is
necessary to be possessed of a considerable portion of that knowledge of
history, of legislation, of political economy, of mercantile and
financial transactions, the _foundations_ of which you are at Oxford
engaged in laying. It is not to be wished that an under-graduate should
affect to be an experienced politician, prepared to give a strong and
decided opinion upon subjects, upon which able and experienced men,
possessed of ten times his knowledge, find a difficulty in making up
their mind. In the reports of trials, many curious facts, and much
interesting information are to be found. In order to understand many of
them, however, it is requisite to have a more intimate acquaintance with
the rules of English jurisprudence, and with the practice of the courts,
than can be expected in a young man as yet hardly set free from the
eggshell of school. Upon the subject of newspapers, however, I will say
no more. I well know, that in merely touching upon it, I tread upon
delicate and debateable ground.

Take sufficient time for relaxation; but let your relaxations, as far as
you can, be intellectual and improving.

Oxford now presents opportunities, both of acquiring some knowledge of
natural history, and of cultivating a taste in the fine arts, which it
by no means possessed when I was an under-graduate. For these we are
principally indebted to those two admirable brothers[66:1], who have so
long devoted their time, their money, their distinguished talents, and
their various attainments, in the first place, to plans of beneficence,
and in the next, to the advancement of science and the cultivation of
taste. It is to them that we owe the enlargement, the arrangement, and
in fact the greater part of the contents, of the Museum, which now
contains a very interesting collection of specimens, particularly in
British ornithology. To them we are indebted for the excellent casts (in
the Ratcliffe Library) from the most perfect specimens of sculpture, and
for the beautiful models (in the Picture Gallery) of the most celebrated
remains of ancient architecture. The Picture Gallery itself contains
many paintings, which, if not of any great excellence as works of art,
yet are well deserving of attention on very many accounts; and the
copies from the Cartoons, especially if you can be assisted with a few
hints from Richardson or Sir Joshua Reynolds, are most interesting
objects of study and contemplation. I am surprised that the young men in
Oxford make so little use of these advantages. Many of them seem hardly
to be aware of their existence.

Among other modes of relaxation, not unconnected with intellectual
improvement, I should advise you to make yourself a little acquainted
with our early English architecture. If you can buy or borrow either
Bentham's Essay on Gothic Architecture, or Milner's accurate and elegant
Treatise on the Ecclesiastical Architecture of England during the middle
ages, you will need no other assistance, excepting, indeed, a friend
disposed to go along with you in this pursuit. Oxford and its immediate
neighbourhood will furnish you with many interesting specimens from the
Saxon and Norman, in the cathedral, St. Peter's in the East, and Iffley
church, down to the utter depravation of the art, or rather the total
change of style, in the time of Henry the Eighth.

These interesting pursuits, however, I mention, as you must follow them,
if you follow them at all, merely _by the by_. They must not be suffered
to interfere with your severer studies. When engaged in those studies,
give them your whole undivided attention. _Whatsoever your hand, or your
head, findeth to do, do it with all your might._

The habits of study and of intellectual improvement, which you acquire
at Oxford, you should carry with you into the vacation. During the
vacation, you may, perhaps, take more time for society--the society
especially of your own immediate family--and more for relaxation; but
still do not _waste_ your time; still consider yourself as responsible
for the right employment of it. Make sure of the ground which you gained
during the term, by going over by yourself, what you then read with your
tutor. Improve your acquaintance with the standard writers of our own
country, and acquire some knowledge of modern history. In short, make
the most of your leisure. Read Bishop Home's sermon on redeeming the
time, and the papers in the Spectator and the Rambler to which he
refers. Read, _and learn by heart_, what is said on the loss of time in
the second of Young's Night Thoughts:

    "Part with it as with money, sparing; pay
    No moment but in purchase of its worth."

But my letter grows long, and (you will say) tedious.

  I remain,
  My dear Nephew,
  Your affectionate Uncle.


[62:1] Vol. I. No. 14.

[66:1] John Duncan, Esq. and Philip Duncan, Esq. of New College.




I ventured to give you some advice respecting the employment of your
time; perhaps I ought to follow up that letter with a few remarks upon
PUNCTUALITY. Unless you acquire the habit of punctuality, you will be
apt, not only to lose your own time, but to make unjustifiable inroads
upon the time of other persons.

Endeavour, therefore, to _keep to your time_ in every appointment,
whether the appointment be made by yourself or by others, (the college
authorities for instance,) whether it be with a superior, an equal, or
an inferior. Whether it be in a matter of business or in a matter of
pleasure, try always to be true to it. Let this be your system and your
habit. Some deviations from punctuality may now and then be unavoidable;
but do not let them occur unless they _really are_ unavoidable in
fairness and reason. If you have yourself made an appointment, your word
is, to a certain degree, pledged to your keeping to it. The case is in
some measure the same, when, though the appointment is actually made by
others, you have acceded to it.

Want of punctuality seems to proceed either from pride and
superciliousness, or from some infirmity, some weakness of character.
Most men try to be punctual in any appointment with a man of rank
superior to themselves, especially if they have any object, any
interest, in conciliating his favour. And, on the other hand, too many
persons seem to feel themselves at liberty to be unpunctual in an
appointment with an inferior. It is not worth while, they think, to care
about being exact with one so much beneath them. "Let him wait till I am
at leisure to attend to him," exclaims such a man, in the proud
consciousness of superiority; and, perhaps, some trifle, or mere
indolence, is all that he has to plead for his neglect.

You, my dear nephew, have, I trust, long since learned, that you have no
right to treat any man, however low his rank may be, with
disrespect,--with any thing approaching to contempt. You well know, that
both reason and religion require us to regard all men as our brothers,
and that one of the golden rules of the latter is, _in lowliness of
mind, let each esteem others better than himself_. Whatever a man's rank
in life may be, he has a right to punctuality as he has a right to
truth; and you have no right, by your unpunctuality, to rob him either
of his time or his patience. Certainly you have no right to give him by
such means the painful feeling that he is neglected, and neglected
because he is despised.

And thus, also, with men of your own age and your own rank in life; in
all the little engagements and appointments, whether of business or of
pleasure, which occur in the common intercourse of society, endeavour
still to maintain the habit of punctuality. As every man wishes to have
the character of being true to his word, so it will be to your credit to
have the character of being true to your engagements, whether those
engagements relate to great matters or to small.

But though want of punctuality is sometimes occasioned by pride, it
must more frequently proceed from a certain degree of weakness of
character, or from mere indolence. A man acknowledges punctuality to be
right and desirable, but cannot muster up sufficient energy and
resolution. He cannot prevail upon himself to quit his bed, or his easy
chair, or his fire-side, or the employment by which he chances to be
occupied, till the time fixed on has passed away. His friends are kept
waiting; those who have business to transact with him lose their temper;
they, again, are perhaps disappointing others, and all because he had
not sufficient decision of character, sufficient command of himself, to
be punctual.

You may remember seeing at my house my friend Mr. M.[78:1] He was at
Oxford a very good-humoured fellow, and every body liked him; but he
never could contrive to be in time for any thing. He got imposition upon
imposition for being too late for chapel; he came to dine in hall when
other men were going away; and his friends were almost afraid of making
an appointment with him, either for business or for amusement, because
they knew beforehand that he would not keep it. When, after leaving
Oxford, he established himself as a country gentleman in his paternal
mansion, the same habit still clung to him. No time was fixed for any
thing, or if it was fixed, it was never kept. Neither his guests nor his
servants knew at what hour either breakfast, or dinner, or any other
domestic arrangement, would take place. Consequently, their time and
their spirits were wasted in uncertainty. When engaged to dine at a
neighbour's, perhaps he would forget the engagement altogether; or, if
he chanced to remember it, would not arrive till the master of the feast
had given him up in despair, after allowing possibly an extra half hour,
during which, the solemn pause which sometimes takes place before
dinner, had become more solemn, from the annoyance of seeing a whole
party kept waiting by the unpunctuality of one person. The servants,
meanwhile, were yawning and fidgetting backwards and forwards in the
listlessness of expectation; the cook perplexed with the sore dilemma of
seeing all the productions of her skill, either chilled with cold from
being kept back, or burnt to a cinder; and the temper even of the lady
of the house a little out of tune, from the certainty that the dinner
would be spoiled. Of all these various vexations, the sole cause was to
be found in Mr. M.'s want of energy. He could not bring himself,
perhaps, either to shorten a pleasant ride, or to lay down a book which
interested him, or to quit his own chair by the fire-side, in order to
dress. The convenience and comfort, and for a time the good humour, of a
whole company, were to be sacrificed to his indolence, his _vis
inertiæ_, and unpunctuality.

Never permit yourself, my dear nephew, thus to trifle with the time or
the temper of any persons, whether high or low, with whom you have any
intercourse. Make a point of always being in time. I think it is said of
Lord Nelson (though I cannot hit upon the passage in his life), that
when some friend was fixing an appointment of importance at a certain
hour, the hero added, "Say a quarter _before_--to that quarter _before_,
I have owed all my success in life." I do not advise you actually to be
_before_ the time of an engagement, which some people will complain of
as being worse than being too late, but be so much beforehand as to be
master of your time, or to have it in your power to be punctual almost
to a minute. When you are received as a guest in a friend's house,
consider compliance with the hours and habits of the family, as a
natural return for the hospitality which is shown to you. There is
something incongruous in seeing a young person deranging, by his
unpunctuality, the economy and regularity of a whole household. And do
not suffer the kindness and indulgence of your parents to induce you,
when with them, to be less attentive to punctuality than you are, when
with other persons of superior age or rank to yourself. Never let them
wait for you; make a point of being always ready. An excellent friend of
mine lays it down as a maxim, that _habitual unpunctuality is positive

I have alluded to the unpunctuality of one of my college friends: I will
contrast it with the punctuality of another. The latter when at Oxford
was distinguished for lively talents, and for an exuberance of spirits
bursting forth into every possible variety of fun. He is now the owner
of a spacious and splendid mansion, with a large establishment of
servants, and often a considerable number of guests, attracted by his
many amiable and excellent qualities. He still retains his playfulness
of wit, but his domestic arrangements are a model of punctuality. Family
prayers, and every meal, are to a minute. His guests and servants,
consequently, know exactly what they have to depend on, the arrangements
of the day, whether for business or for amusement, can be made with
precision, and every thing is done at its proper time. This is
punctuality on a greater scale. You and I, my dear nephew, must attend
to it in smaller matters.

  I remain,
  My dear Nephew,
  Your affectionate Uncle.


[78:1] Mr. M. is imaginary.




In a former letter I recommended to you certain modes of relaxation,
having some connection with intellectual improvement. You will, perhaps,
tell me that you want relaxation more entire and complete; that the
intellect requires perfect rest; that you must have _amusement_ in the
strict etymological sense of the word. You may be right. I have already
advised you to take sufficient time for _exercise_, and the exercise of
the body will generally give rest and refreshment to the mind.

In your choice of amusement, however--amusement, I mean, as combined
with exercise--you must have strict regard to economy, both of money and
of time. Do not think me an old woman, if I add, that regard for _both_
should keep you from any excessive bodily exertion, such as will unfit
you for study, or seriously affect your health. I am told that the
latter effect has of late, not unfrequently, been the result of over
fatigue in _rowing_; that many young men have died at an early age; that
others live on with all their powers debilitated, from having
overstrained their nerves, and their whole muscular system, in
boat-races. Rowing is in itself a salutary and delightful species of
exercise; and the facility of practising it, is one among the many
advantages of Oxford; but when carried to the excess which I have
alluded to, it is foolish and culpable.

I would have a young man regardless of danger, willing to risk limbs,
health, or life itself, for the benefit of his fellow-creatures. He
should, like Hamlet, "hold his life at a pin's fee," when any adequate
object is to be answered by putting it in jeopardy. But a man has _no
right_ to risk either his life or his limbs for a bravado, in mere idle
vanity and ostentation. Such wanton risk is cruelty to his parents and
friends, and a presumptuous tempting of Providence.

_Riding_, for riding's sake, must, with your finances, be out of the
question. The utmost that you ought to allow yourself, is a hack once or
twice a term, for some specific purpose--to visit a distant friend,
perhaps, or to see some interesting object lying beyond the range of a
walk. What I have said of riding, applies, with ten-fold force, to
hunting, which entails expense--(the hire of a hunter, the hire of a
hack probably to take you to cover, sundry ostlers and helpers, and very
likely a jovial dinner at an inn)--utterly inconsistent with an average
allowance; which entails, also, a waste of time, which, in the short
period of an Oxford residence, can ill be spared.

What shall I say of _cricket_? I have great respect for cricket, as a
national and a manly game. The demand which it makes upon your Oxford
time is confined to the short term between Easter and the long vacation,
and it does not require a very large portion of the day. It is not
_necessarily_ attended with any expense. Whether the incidental expenses
of _uniform_ (if you belong to a club), tent, dinner, &c. &c. are such
as you can fairly afford, is for your consideration. They need not be
high, and, in my good will to the game, I am anxious that they should
be kept down.

_Tennis_ is an animated game, of much variety in itself, and requiring
great variety of muscular exertion. It is connected with many historical
and chivalrous recollections, and carries the mind back to our Henry the
Fifth and the "mocking Dauphin" of France. As it cannot be played
without a spacious and expensive edifice, it is altogether an
aristocratic game, and demands an aristocratic purse. It is a game which
requires a good deal of practice, and, consequently, a good deal of
expenditure, in order to acquire a tolerable degree of skill; and your
skill will seldom have an opportunity of showing itself after you have
quitted Oxford, as you will seldom fall in with a tennis-court. I have
no hesitation in saying, that you, my dear nephew, have no money that
you have a right to spend upon yourself in this manner.

You will never, I trust, annoy any of the neighbouring country
gentlemen, by attacking their game. You know how tender a point this is,
and how susceptible most landed proprietors are upon the subject; and
your own good feeling, and sense of propriety, and common fairness, will
prevent you from trespassing in this manner. You can imagine how
indignant you would yourself feel at such an invasion, and will not be
guilty towards another of a wrong, of which you would complain loudly
if it were offered to yourself.

After all, _walking_ is the cheapest exercise, and, perhaps, the best.
If you wish to give it variety, you will find plenty of ditches to leap,
steeps to ascend, and hills to run up or down. And, dull as are most of
the great roads leading into Oxford, the country round abounds in
interesting objects within reach of a walk. There is much natural
scenery, possessed of a good deal of variety and picturesque character;
and there are many buildings, and remains of buildings, which either
from something in themselves, or from adventitious circumstances, well
deserve to be looked at. The church at Cumnor, for instance, not only
has within itself much to interest a man fond of architectural or
antiquarian investigation, but, in common with the remains or site of
Cumnor hall, and the village of Dry Sandford, have acquired a sort of
classical notoriety from the magical pen of Sir Walter Scott. The
picturesque ruins of the kitchen, and other buildings at Stanton
Harcourt, the slight vestiges of Godston Nunnery, the Town Hall, the
Gaol, and the two churches at Abingdon, may all become, each in its
turn, the object of a pedestrian expedition. The residence of the
Speaker, Lenthall, at Bessilsleigh, may deserve notice, from historical
recollections, though for no other reason. The Saxon church in Iffley I
have already mentioned. The recently-built Saxon chapel at Kennington is
done in excellent taste, and is a most gratifying instance of the
munificence and piety of an individual clergyman, devoting, I believe,
almost all his resources to the work. The church at Wytham will show you
that a church very lately erected may, by correct judgment, be made to
present the appearance of having been built five hundred years ago. But
I must not go on in this way, or you will think that you have got hold
of an Oxford guide. Most of the villages and village churches in the
neighbourhood, have some character of their own worth examining.

So much for amusements connected with exercise, which has led me into
something like a repetition of some of the sentiments in a former

A few words on sedentary amusements.

If you read _in earnest_, and are bent upon making the most of your
time, you will have little of it left for amusements of a sedentary

The less you have to do with cards the better. Young men can have no
occasion for the assistance of cards in order to pass their time; and
there seems to be something almost incongruous in the idea of _their_
sitting down to a rubber. Nor do they need the excitement: if they wish
for it, that very wish is a reason why they ought not to have it. If
they play for money--or, at all events, if they play for such sums as
make the winning or losing an object of any degree of consequence--they
become gamblers; and of the many bad passions which gambling sometimes
calls into activity, and of the destructive consequences which it
entails, no one is ignorant. If you once get into the habit of playing,
you will, perhaps, not know when to stop. Cards are very seductive, and
you may find yourself become a gambler almost before you are aware of
it. Perhaps the best plan is _not to know_ how to play, which furnishes
an answer always ready.

Chess is a game of elegance and interest, and the being a good
chess-player, carries with it a certain impression of general ability
and of intellectual activity and resource. Perhaps I may allow that
playing at chess adds a certain degree of interest to the perusal of the
history of a campaign, whether ancient or modern, with its various
moves, its checks and counter-checks, its retreats and _castlings_. But
chess is a fascinating game, and will be apt to make larger demands upon
your time than you can afford. If you indulge in it at all, you must be
peremptory with yourself in resisting its tendency to incroach either
upon your time or your _temper_. Sometimes, too, it requires so much
exertion of thought,--is such a strain upon the mind,--that it hardly
can answer the purposes of relaxation. If you play, by all means read
Franklin's Essay on the Morals of Chess. For clearness of head, for
truth-telling simplicity and honesty of purpose, and for perspicuity and
liveliness of style, Franklin has, perhaps, no superior.

Always recollect that improvement, moral and intellectual, is the great
object for which you were sent to Oxford. With that object nothing must
be suffered to interfere.

  I remain, &c. &c.




I do not know exactly what allowance your father has been able to give
you, but whatever it may be, I trust that you are resolutely determined
to keep within it. This will, of course, require a good deal of care and
attention. Many young men, when, upon going to the University, they find
in their pockets a much larger sum than they ever possessed before,
fancy themselves rich, and at liberty to allow themselves various
unnecessary indulgences. The consequence is, that they become entangled
in debts, from which they can never extricate themselves during their
continuance at Oxford. Be on your guard against getting thus hampered.
Take it for granted, that the regular and necessary claims upon your
finances will leave but little over for the indulgence of pleasure or

The expenses of an University education are often most unfairly
exaggerated by writers and speakers, who are fond of running down all
old institutions. These carpers affect to set down to the score of the
University all the money that is spent by the young men who reside in
it. They seem to forget that, wherever a young man may be, he must eat
and drink, and must purchase clothes suitable to his station in society.
I was myself, as you probably know, at Christ Church, where I took my
degree, and afterwards became a Fellow of Oriel. At Oriel, (which may
probably be taken as a fair average of the rest of the University,) the
_necessary_ annual expenses of a commoner are from 70l. to 80l., or
thereabouts[101:1]. This includes room-rent, batels, (that is,
breakfast, dinner, &c. _exclusive_ of tea and sugar), tuition,
University and College dues, coals, letters, washing, servants. The
University dues are less than 1l. per annum. There are, perhaps, few
places in England, where a gentleman can be comfortably lodged and
boarded at a much cheaper rate. Still there will always be many
incidental expenses, and you must put in practice a pretty severe
economy in order to meet them.

In the manner in which you spend your money, as in every thing else,
accustom yourself to a certain degree of self-denial. Do not buy any
thing merely because it hits your fancy, and you think you should _like
to have it_, but consider whether you cannot easily _do without it_. Be
as liberal as you can reasonably afford to be in assisting others,
especially the poor, but spend as little as you can help upon yourself.
Above all, never buy, or order, any thing which you are unable to pay

The habit of running in debt is pregnant with evil and misery of every
description. It often--perhaps generally--amounts to positive
dishonesty. The money which you owe a tradesman is really his property.
The articles, which you have received from him, are hardly your own,
until you have paid for them. If you keep them, without paying for them
when the seller wishes and asks for payment, you deprive a man of that
which belongs to him; and is not that something approaching to robbery?
To a man possessed of proper feeling and a nice sense of honour, it must
be very painful to suffer a tradesman to ask twice for what is clearly
his right. To affect to be offended with such an application, and to
meet it with superciliousness and insolence, is injustice carried to its

The manner in which some men, who would be ready to shoot any one who
disputed their claims to be considered as gentlemen, treat their
creditors, whom they choose to call _duns_, would, from its contrariety
to any thing like reason, be almost ludicrous, if it were not so
culpable, so cruel, and so dishonest.

A tradesman, from not being able to recover the money owed to him, sees
himself in danger of losing his credit, and, together with his credit,
the means of getting a maintenance; he sees his wife and children
perhaps upon the very verge of misery, and yet, if he civilly asks for
what is his due, he is considered as troublesome and impertinent,
perhaps reproached and insulted!

Upon this subject I shall allow myself to quote the words of Delany, the
friend of Dean Swift, one of the most animated and sensible of our
sermon writers.

"Running in debt with tradesmen, and neglecting to pay them in due time,
is utterly ruinous to the whole business of trade and commerce, and
absolutely destructive of the very principles upon which it is built,
and by which it subsists; and yet this is a crime every day committed by
men of fortune and quality, with as little remorse as they eat and
drink; and if the tradesman demands his money, it is odds but he is
either threatened or turned into a jest. The son of Sirach's wise
observation is here every day verified, merely substituting the words
_rich_ and _poor_, for the words _debtor_ and _creditor_. _The debtor
hath done wrong, and yet he threateneth; the creditor is wronged, and
yet he must entreat also._ If threats will not rid these men of their
importunate creditors, then are they to be deluded with fair words and
plausible excuses, to pay attendance from day to day, to the loss of
more time, and neglect of more business, than perhaps the debt is worth;
and so the first injury, instead of being repaired is doubled. And yet
the _gentleman_ debtor, the author of this evil, is so far from
repenting of it, that it is odds but he vaunts his wit and dexterity in
doing it. _As a mad man_ (saith Solomon) _who casteth firebrands,
arrows, and death: so is the man that deceiveth his neighbour, and
saith, Am I not in jest?_ And, indeed, it is scarce to be conceived how
any man can deal more destruction and ruin around him, than by deceiving
and breaking faith with the fair trader; for it is well known, his
credit, his whole subsistence, depends upon keeping his word, and being
strictly punctual in his payments and his promises; and, if he fail in
these, he is undone at once. And how is it possible he should not fail,
if the gentlemen he deals with fail him? He hath no way of raising money
but by sale of his goods; and if those to whom they are trusted will not
pay him, it is impossible he can pay his creditors; and, if he do not
pay them, it is impossible but he must be ruined, and, perhaps, many
more with him. For traders are linked and dependent on one another; and
one man's fall throws down many more with him: the shop-keeper is in
debt to the maker or the merchant; and these again to the journeyman,
the farmer, or the foreign correspondent; and so the ruin becomes
complicated, and extended beyond imagination!"

"Credit is to a tradesman what honour is to a gentleman: to a man that
is truly such, (a gentleman,) his honour is as dear as his life: to the
trader, credit is as life itself; for he cannot live without it."

You, my dear nephew, will never, I trust, stoop so low as to be guilty
of such dishonesty. But then you must keep a vigilant eye upon your
expenses. Paying ready money for every thing may be sometimes
inconvenient, and may, perhaps, occasion mistakes; but never leave
Oxford for a vacation without clearing off every thing that you owe.
Take receipts, and keep them. The most honest and respectable tradesman
may sometimes, in the hurry of business, omit to cross a charge out of
his book, and will feel a satisfaction in having any doubt as to payment
removed. Have such receipts tied up and docketed, so that you may refer
to any one of them readily.

Never suffer yourself to be led into needless expense by the example of
your companions, and never be ashamed of saying that you cannot afford

We sometimes see weak young men vying with each other in the expensive
elegance of their furniture and dress, or in the luxury of their
entertainments. A man of large fortune produces at his table a variety
of costly wines, abundance of ice, and a splendid dessert. Others, from
a silly vanity, affect to do the same, although such expensive luxuries
are altogether inconsistent with their finances, and with the general
habits of men in their rank of life. The more such expenses and foolish
ostentation can be checked by the college _authorities_ the better. At
all events, do not _you_ be so weak as to fall into them. There is no
disgrace in being poor, but there is disgrace and dishonesty too, in
contracting debts which you are unable to discharge.

Some young Oxonians, I am afraid, after spending the larger portion of
their allowance upon amusements and self-indulgence, drive off the
payment of what they regard as their more _creditable_ debts till they
take their degree, under the idea that they will then be paid by their
fathers. This is a most unwarrantable,--sometimes a _cruel_,--drain upon
parental kindness. Poets may well speak of university expenses "pinching
parents black and blue[112:1]," when this is the case.

The majority of parents, as I have already said, do not send their sons
to the University without some degree of pecuniary inconvenience to
themselves. It is, indeed, hard upon them, when, in addition to an
annual allowance, which, probably, they have furnished not without
difficulty, they are called upon for a considerable sum, in order to
save their sons' credit--perhaps in order to enable him to take his
degree. For you are aware that an unpaid tradesman has the power, if he
thinks fit to exert it, of stopping the degree of a spendthrift
under-graduate. This power, I believe, is seldom, if ever, exercised.
But surely the being liable to it, through your own misconduct and
extravagance, would be attended with a feeling of painful humiliation.

  I remain,
  My dear Nephew,
  Your affectionate Uncle.


[101:1] June, 1832.

[112:1] Cowper.




In the present state of society, it is, perhaps, less necessary than it
would have been formerly, that I should give you any caution or advice
on the subject of _temperance_. Five-and-thirty years ago, it was
customary to drink a good deal of wine after dinner, and young men at
Oxford were not behind-hand with the rest of the world in complying with
this bad custom.

It was _then_ generally the system, to initiate a freshman by making
him completely drunk. Scripture is by no means sufficiently listened to
_now_, but perhaps its warnings were less known and less regarded
_then_. The master of the revels and his abettors were ignorant, or
unmindful, of the threatenings denounced by the voice of
Inspiration,--_Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that
puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also_: and again--_Woe
unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle
strong drink_. Regardless of these denunciations, and trusting to the
strength of their own heads, and the practised discipline of their own
stomachs, their _noble_ ambition was to make drunk as many of their
guests as possible, especially any luckless freshman who chanced to be
of the party. Those who, whether from religious principle or from
manliness of character, did not choose to submit to be made drunk, were
obliged either to encounter these _kind_ endeavours with sturdy
resistance,--resistance which sometimes occasioned a total cessation of
intercourse and acquaintance,--or to evade them by stratagem. Glass
after glass was dexterously emptied upon the carpet under the table, or
the purple stream sought concealment under heaps of walnut-shells and
orange-peel. In short, at a tolerably large wine-party there was wasted,
or _worse than wasted_, a quantity of Port wine sufficient to check the
ravages of a typhus fever in an entire village.

These days of _Celtic barbarism_ are, I hope, utterly passed away. As in
general society very little wine is consumed, (_excepting at dinner_,)
so Oxford has caught the spirit of the times, and the bacchanalian
revels to which I have alluded are, I believe, much less common than
they were formerly, if not entirely exploded. I am afraid, however, that
even now more wine is drunk in some colleges, than is consistent either
with Christian temperance, or with habits of study, or with the
preservation of health.

I need not point out to _you_, my dear nephew, the evils which, in a
religious point of view, result from drinking to excess. You, I well
know, would shudder at the idea of wilfully depriving yourself of
reason, and of sinking yourself to the situation of a beast or of a
maniac. A man, who has thrown away his reason, has little right to hope
for the continuance of the assisting and preventing grace of God. And
destitute of the controlling guidance, both of reason and of Divine
Grace, what is there left to prevent his ungoverned passions from
carrying him into the most perilous excesses? There are deadly vices, to
which young men are, at all times, but too powerfully solicited by their
natural appetites; and when those appetites are stimulated by drinking,
and all salutary control shaken off, the danger is great indeed. You
perhaps may remember an Eastern apologue to the following effect, (I
know not where to find it): The Devil having, by the impulse of terror,
induced a holy man to consent to commit _some_ crime, allowed him to
choose, whether he would get drunk, or be guilty of either of two of the
most horrible enormities he could conceive. The poor victim chose
drunkenness, as being the least offence, but in the state to which he
had thus brought himself, was guilty of all three.

And even if you are kept back from any additional guilt, yet you well
know, that by throwing away your reason, you become capable of being
guilty of all sorts of absurdities,--that you are liable to say and do a
hundred foolish things, of which, when you return to your senses, you
will be heartily ashamed,--that you expose yourself to the ridicule and
contempt of those, who witness the degraded state to which you have
reduced yourself.

A drunken _Christian_ is almost a contradiction in terms; and something
the same may be said of a drunken _gentleman_. Among many in the middle
and the industrious classes of society, there is much intelligence, much
quick perception of what is morally right, and of general propriety of
behaviour. As such men are not backward in shewing respect, where
respect is really due, so they are keen-sighted in detecting gross
inconsistencies of conduct, and ready to bestow the full measure of
contempt upon those, who, while placed above them by the advantages of
birth, and fortune, and education, yet meanly condescend, by their vices
and their excesses, to degrade themselves below them.

The inconsistency of any excess in drinking, with the main purpose for
which you were sent to Oxford, is palpable. You go to Oxford professedly
for study. Independently of the time actually occupied by a wine-party,
any excess will, probably, indispose you for study the morning after;

                      Corpus onustum
    Hesternis vitiis animum quoque prægravat una,
    Atque affigit humo divinæ particulam auræ.

You will rise from your bed heavy and languid, probably with some
disposition to headache; and will be far more inclined to lounge in an
easy-chair, or to saunter about in listless idleness, than to sit down
to active mental exertion.

I must add, that the habit of drinking much wine during your continuance
at Oxford, is not unlikely materially to injure your health in the
succeeding periods of your life. Such habit has a tendency permanently
to derange and weaken the digestive powers, and to injure and harden the
internal coats and the orifices of the stomach. I am persuaded, that
much of the tendency to apoplectic and paralytic affections; much of the
general indisposition, which we often witness in men advanced beyond the
middle period of the usual term of human life,--men who have of late
perhaps, lived temperately--is to be attributed to the wine which they
drank when young.

But I will not dwell longer on the evils of excessive drinking. You know
the admonitions of Scripture,--_Take heed lest at any time your hearts
be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness. Be not drunk with wine,
wherein is excess._ You know that _drunkards cannot inherit the kingdom
of God_; you know that drunkenness is spoken of by St. Paul as being the
vice of those, who remain sunk in the thick darkness of ignorance and
heathenism, and as utterly unbefitting those who are blessed with the
light of the Gospel. Indeed, it is unworthy of any man possessed only of
common sense.

Guard, then, my dear nephew, against this degrading habit with
determined resolution. Let neither the example, nor the solicitations,
nor the taunting jests of your companions, induce you to demean yourself
so far, as to be guilty of a vice so utterly unworthy of you, both as a
man and as a Christian. If they, for their amusement, were to request
you to cut off your right hand, you would not feel bound to comply with
them. Do not, for their gratification, expose yourself in the condition
of a fool, or an idiot. Do not, in order to please a party of
thoughtless revellers, incur the displeasure of Almighty God, and run
the hazard of eternal ruin.

And take care, that you do not yourself _acquire_ a taste for any such
sensual indulgences. "The appetite for intoxicating liquors," says
Paley, "appears to be almost always _acquired_." Guard against the first
beginnings of intemperance. _Principiis obsta._ If you are not on your
guard, you will be in danger of being carried on, step by step, until
retreat becomes out of the question.

You would avoid many trials of your firmness, and be relieved probably
from much irksome importunity, if you could make up your mind to
renounce wine altogether. This you would do with the less difficulty, if
backed by the sanction of medical advice. I apprehend that most medical
men, if desired to give their _candid_ opinion, would recommend
abstinence from wine as conducive to a _young_ man's health both of body
and mind. I knew _water-drinkers_ at Oxford, who yielded to none of
their companions in liveliness and all social qualities, either in their
own room or at the wine-party of a friend. Many young men in the army,
I believe, adopt this system, from motives both of moral and of
economical prudence. A pint, or even half a pint, of wine per day, makes
a considerable hole in the pay of a subaltern, or in the stipend of a
country curate, or in the allowance of a briefless barrister. Avoid
acquiring factitious wants. Do not by habit make wine necessary to your
comfort. It is wise, when young, not to indulge in luxuries which in any
future period of your life you probably will not be able to afford,
consistently with the claims which will then be pressing upon you. I
throw out this idea, however, for your own consideration, without urging
it as matter of positive advice. I think, however, that your intellect
will be clearer, and your mind often more cheerful, if you comply with
the suggestion.

Shall I add a word or two upon temperance in _eating_? I hope that there
are few young men who are apt to be guilty of the _porcine_ vice of
eating to excess; in plain English--of _gluttony_. Perhaps, however, the
temptations of a well-appointed dinner, prepared by an exquisite
_artiste_, may induce them occasionally to transgress. It is, perhaps,
hardly fair to quote from any thing so well known as Addison's paper on
Temperance, in the Spectator[128:1], but it is much to my purpose. "It
is said of Diogenes, that meeting a young man who was going to a feast,
he took him up in the street, and carried him home to his friends, as
one who was running into imminent danger, had not he prevented him. What
would that philosopher have said, had he been present at the luxury of a
modern meal? Would he not have thought the master of a family mad, and
have begged his servants to tie down his hands, had he seen him devour
fowl, fish, and flesh; swallow oil and vinegar, wines and spices; throw
down salads of twenty different sorts, sauces of a hundred ingredients,
confections and fruits of numberless sweets and flavours? What unnatural
motions and counter-ferments must such a medley of intemperance produce
in the body? For my part, when I behold a fashionable table, set out in
all its magnificence, I fancy that I see gouts and dropsies, fevers and
lethargies, with innumerable distempers, lying in ambuscade among the

"Nature delights in the most plain and simple diet." He then gives some
rules for temperance, which are well worth attending to. This passage of
Addison is much in the spirit of that of Horace:

                ----"Variæ res
    Ut noceant homini, credas, memor illius escæ
    Quæ simplex olim tibi sederit. At simul assis
    Miscueris elixa, simul conchylia turdis;
    Dulcia se in bilem vertent, stomachoque tumultum
    Lenta feret pituita."

Most of the modern writers on dietetics, as well as those who have
preceded them, recommend a very considerable abridgment of the quantity
of food, usually consumed at the table of the affluent.

And while I strongly advise you to be rather abstemious as to _quantity_
of food, so I wish you not to be in the slightest degree fastidious as
to its _quality_, provided it is wholesome, and free from qualities
absolutely revolting. You may naturally like one thing better than
another, and partake of what you prefer, when it comes in your way; but
it is painful to see a young man of any intellect indulging in the
niceties of an epicure, and really appearing to care much about what he
eats, and what he drinks. When I commenced the life of a country
clergyman, I was often received, with almost parental kindness, in a
house, in which good taste of all kinds,--moral, intellectual, social,
and _culinary_,--presided in an eminent degree. Every now and then, some
particular dish made its appearance, under the impression that I was
particularly fond of it. Probably I had eaten of it some days before,
because it chanced to be near me, or from some similar accident. I was
grateful for the kindness and attention, but felt mortified, almost
degraded, at its being supposed that I cared about one thing more than
another, where all were good and wholesome.

Do not get into the habit of spending your money in ices, and other
delicacies, at the pastry-cook's and confectioner's. You say that you
are hungry;--

    Latrantem stomachum bene leniet."

If your hunger would disdain a piece of dry bread, it certainly has no
claim to be attended to at all. You say that you can _afford_ to indulge
yourself in the delicacies to which I have alluded. I do not think that
you can; at all events, your money may be more worthily spent--

      "Non est melius quo insumere possis?
    Cur eget indignus quisquam, te divite? Quare
    Templa ruunt antiqua Deûm?"

In other words, if you have the money to spare, give it to the
deserving poor, or to the Church-building Society. Few expenses are
more unsatisfactory in retrospect,--I had almost said, more
_disgraceful_,--than those which have been incurred by sensual
self-indulgence; incurred to gratify a vitiated palate and a pampered

Self-denial is recommended by the classical writers of antiquity, as
well as by the most sensible of modern authors; and, what is of
infinitely more importance, is strongly inculcated by the Christian
religion. But how shall self-denial be practised _at all_, if it cannot
be practised in the low matter of eating and drinking?

Read again and again the paper of Addison, and the Satire of Horace,
(the second of the second Book), from which I have made my quotations.
Read also the following passages from that accurate observer of the
habits and manners of social life, the son of Sirach:

_If thou sit at a bountiful table, be not greedy upon it, and say not,
There is much meat on it.--Eat, as it becometh a man, those things that
are set before thee; and devour not, lest thou be hated. Leave off
first for manners' sake; and be not insatiable, lest thou offend._

_A very little is sufficient for a man well nurtured, and he fetcheth
not his wind short upon his bed._

_Sound sleep cometh of moderate eating; he riseth early, and his wits
are with him: but the pain of watching, and choler, and pangs of the
belly, are with an insatiable man._

  I remain,
  My dear Nephew,
  Your affectionate Uncle.


[128:1] No. 195.




When at Oxford, you will not have much time for any reading, excepting
that which has some reference to your examination. During the vacations,
however, which occupy about half the year, you are more at liberty, and
will do well, as I have already suggested to you, to give a good deal of
your leisure to increasing your acquaintance with the classical writers
of your own language.

Both at Oxford and home, endeavour, on most days, to catch some little
portion of time,--a quarter of an hour may be sufficient,--for religious
reading. Melmoth's "Great Importance of a Religious Life," and the
abridgment of Law's "Serious Call," adopted by the Society for Promoting
Christian Knowledge, are two of the best books that occur to me, for the
purpose of impressing you with the absolute necessity, of giving
religion the first place in your thoughts and your heart. You may read
either of them through in an hour. Of the former, 42,000 copies were
sold in the eighteen years preceding 1784. I mention this as an evidence
of its popularity.

Some thirty years ago I was requested by a friend, to recommend some
practical book to put into the hands of a young person. I named Nelson's
"Practice of True Devotion," and have since seen no reason to alter my
opinion. Let that be one of the first books that you make use of. If you
read _one_ chapter each day (and do not read more), it will last you
about three weeks. After an interval of a year or so, go through it

Take next for this purpose Jeremy Taylor's "Holy Living and Dying,"
first reading (if you can borrow the book) what is said of this work by
his highly-gifted and most amiable editor, Bishop Heber. One passage
from Heber's remarks I must allow myself to quote: "But I will not
select, where all may be read with advantage, and can hardly be read
without admiration. To clothe virtue in its most picturesque and
attractive colouring; to enforce with all the terrors of the divine law,
its essential obligations; and to distinguish, in almost every instance
most successfully, between what is prudent and what is necessary; what
may fitly be done, and what cannot safely be left undone;--this is the
triumph of a Christian moralist; and this Jeremy Taylor has, in a great
degree, achieved in his Discourse on Holy Living." You will recollect
that this book was written nearly two hundred years ago, and must not be
surprised if you find a few expressions, and one or two sentiments,
rather obsolete. One of the five rules which Taylor gives in his
Dedication, "for the application of the counsels which follow," applies
to all books of a similar character. "They that will, with profit, make
use of the proper instruments of virtue, must so live as if they were
always under the physician's hand. For the counsels of religion are not
to be applied to the distempers of the soul, as men used to take
hellebore; _but they must dwell together with the spirit of a man, and
be twisted about his understanding for ever: they must be used like
nourishment, that is, by a daily care and meditation_--not like a single
medicine, and upon the actual pressure of a present necessity."

The genuine spirit of Jeremy Taylor, with more correctness of taste, is
found in that delightful book, "The Christian Year." Read it repeatedly.
It is every where full of poetry, and of the purest devotional feeling.
The more you are imbued with the spirit which pervades that beautiful
volume, the more fit you will be to have your part in "the communion of
saints," among _the spirits of just men made perfect_.

Archbishop Seeker's Lectures on the Catechism, contain a body of
divinity, doctrinal and practical, singularly judicious and useful. They
are full of good sense and accurate information. The style, perhaps, is
rather involved, and not very engaging; but you see a mind in full
possession of its subject, anxious to put you in full possession of it
also, without omitting any thing of importance.

Gilpin's Lectures on the Catechism are of a different character. This
also is a very good and a very pleasing book, written with a particular
view to young persons engaged in reading the Greek and Latin Classics.

Ogden's Sermons, on Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments, &c. are
the offspring of a clear and powerful intellect, expressed in language
remarkably perspicuous and elegant.

_After_ these books, take some opportunity of reading the Sermons of
Bishop Butler, including the Preface. This is not a book to be read in a
room full of brothers and sisters. It demands close attention, and will
give some exercise to all your intellectual powers; but it richly merits
to have such attention and pains bestowed upon it. It deserves, indeed
requires, more than a single reading. After Butler's Sermons read his

You will do well, at any odd intervals, or _snatches_ of time, to make
yourself familiar with Addison and Johnson. False delicacy shall not
prevent me from recommending the selection from the writings of Addison
which I made a few years ago. My reasons for making such selection are
given in the Preface. The same reasons now induce me to recommend it to

Johnson requires no pruning. You can hardly read a paper in the Rambler
or Idler, and, I will add, the Adventurer, without deriving from it some
improvement, either moral or intellectual, or both. The structure and
cadence of Johnson's sentences is certainly monotonous; but I seldom
read half a page without being struck by the depth of his thought, the
accuracy and minuteness of his observation, and the astonishing extent
of his multifarious reading.

In order to enter with more discrimination into the style of our
different authors, read often "Blair's Lectures." They are, I believe,
sometimes spoken slightingly of by men of learning; I, however, as an
unlearned man, think them particularly useful. The Lecture on the Origin
of Language, indeed, the absurdity of which has been exposed with so
much playfulness by Cowper, might well have been omitted.

I have already advised you, during the two longer vacations, to acquire,
or to keep up, some knowledge of modern history. Russell's "Modern
Europe" is, upon the whole, a useful book. It is, perhaps, too
compendious; and I dislike its being given in the form of letters.
Robertson's "Charles the Fifth" you have probably read already; if not,
read it carefully when, in Russell, you arrive at the period at which it
commences. Pay particular attention to the First Book. Perhaps Robertson
was not sufficiently impressed with the importance and the effects of
the Reformation in Germany; and he formed, I think, an unfair estimate
of the character and motives of Luther. This matter will, I doubt not,
be shortly set right in the Life of Luther about to be given to the
public by one of the ablest and most learned men of the present

With respect to the history of our own country, I hardly know what
advice to give you. Hume's style is very pleasing, but he cannot be
implicitly depended on, especially where religion and the ministers of
religion are concerned.

Henry's "History of Great Britain" is a very good and accurate book; but
the continuity of the narrative is broken by the multiplicity of
divisions in each period, (learning, arts, commerce, manners, &c. &c.),
and by the transitions to the history of Scotland.

Lingard I have not read; I am told that his style is good, and his
information extensive. It was natural that, as a zealous Romanist, he
should seek to extenuate the faults of men of his own persuasion, and to
exaggerate the failings, and place in an unfavourable point of view the
motives and actions of the assailants of Popery; but he has, I think,
been fully convicted of carrying misrepresentation beyond all reasonable
bounds. There was but too much of bigotry and persecution on both sides.

Turner's History is, I believe, strictly honest and impartial, and a
work of prodigious labour and research.

But in our attention to prose writers, we must not forget the classical
poets of our own country. Make yourself familiarly acquainted with
Shakspeare, Milton, and Pope. The more you read of Young and Cowper, the
better. Young is sometimes turgid, with a good deal of bad taste; but he
abounds in real poetry, and in strong truths most forcibly expressed.
Cowper sometimes carries simplicity to the verge of being prosaic; but
he is generally graceful, often pathetic, and sometimes approaches to
sublimity. Of both, it was the common object to increase the influence
of genuine Christianity; of both, the perusal has a direct tendency to
make you a better and a more religious man.

Two of our most distinguished living poets--Sir Walter Scott and
Southey--have seen their poetry cast into shade by the popularity of
their own prose. The poems of both will live, and have justice done them
by posterity. "Madoc" was many years ago recommended to me by one of the
most able, and most candid, of our living authors. I read it with much
interest. "The Curse of Kehama" is full of high and wild poetry; and
"Roderick, the last of the Goths" gives a noble picture of deep
penitence and of devoted patriotism. You will hardly read any ten lines
of the longer poems of Sir Walter Scott, without meeting with some
striking beauty of expression or of sentiment.

I am afraid, however, that the English poets, both those of former times
and those of the present day, have been, in great measure, superseded,
among you young Oxonians, by Lord Byron. In almost every
under-graduate's room that I happen to enter, _he_ seems to have taken
possession. Lord Byron, as a poet, has certainly many transcendant
merits,--merits which are peculiarly fascinating to young men. The
interest which I,--which _every one_,--naturally must feel in the moral
and intellectual habits and pursuits of such an important portion of the
community, makes me deeply lament the noble poet's excessive popularity
among you. I am perfectly aware, that by the following remarks I shall
expose myself to the indignation of some men, and, possibly, to the
contempt of others: but I feel that my opinion on this subject is not
taken up on slight grounds; and I _must say my say_.

The publication of Lord Byron's life and correspondence has contributed,
a good deal, to divest him of that mystery, which hung about him, and in
which he himself so much delighted; and has brought him down rather
more to the level of ordinary mortals. They show him to us as a man
possessed of splendid talents, of extensive and various attainments, and
of the _seeds_ of many noble and generous qualities; but as a man
actuated by ungovernable passions, and by an overweening opinion of his
own superiority to all other mortals. _Self_, whether intellectual or
sensual, seems to have been the idol that he worshipped. _His own_
antient family, _his own_ talents, _his own_ attainments, _his own_
whims, _his own_ passions, _his own_ excesses, seem all to have
furnished food for his vanity, because they were _his own_.

I acknowledge that, in all the circumstances of his _bringing up_, he
was singularly unfortunate. His early destitution, the character and
habits of his mother, the neglect of his noble relations, the venal
praises of his parasites and dependents, all acted upon his character
with pernicious influence.

      "Untaught in youth his heart to tame,
    His springs of life were poison'd."

He was sensitively alive to all the beauties and the sublimities of
external nature, and had a most penetrating insight into the complicated
feelings, and the various workings of the human heart, with all its
passions and affections; consequently, he abounds in passages of great
beauty, and of singular strength and power. The gratification derived
from the perusal of such passages, however, to a man at least who really
believes himself to be an immortal and a responsible being, is but a
poor compensation for the moral effects of many of his poems, his
_later_ poems more especially[155:1]. They too often appear to breathe a
spirit of engrossing selfishness; a spirit of captious and gloomy
scepticism,--scepticism extending, not only to revelation, but to the
primary truths of what is called natural religion, and even the most
acknowledged bonds of moral obligation. The tendency of his writings is
to make you dissatisfied with almost every thing, and every body in this
world, and at the same time to unfit you for the world to come; indeed,
to make you doubt, whether the idea of a world to come is not altogether
a mere delusion.

Lord Byron particularly excels in describing female loveliness, and the
effect which such loveliness produces upon the ardent temperament of
youth. In fact, the feeling within themselves so much that responds to
these descriptions, is one great cause of the popularity of Lord Byron
among young people. The sensations to which I allude, however, are of
themselves but too importunate. It is most unwise to excite them,--to
give them additional energy,--by the perusal of the high-wrought and
glowing descriptions of this poet of the passions.

I had heard much of Don Juan, and felt some curiosity to read it; but I
was aware of the manner in which bold and flippant ribaldry sometimes
takes hold of the mind, even when shocked at it. I knew well, that human
nature has in itself but too much of passion and sensuality, without
needing any additional stimulus. I was unwilling "to soil my mind" when
I could avoid it. For my own sake, I was unwilling to see the most
destructive vices treated as mere matter of jest, and the most awful
truths of religion introduced in connexion with ludicrous images, and
spoken of in the language of mockery. However much our judgment may
disapprove of these things, yet the ludicrous passages and images are
too apt to stick by us, even when we most wish to shake them off.

A book was advertised, called "The Beauties of Don Juan, including those
passages only which are calculated to extend the real fame of Lord
Byron." The editor acknowledges that the poem itself, from the unpruned
luxuriance of the author's powers, "has remained a sealed
volume"--certainly it _ought_ to be a _sealed volume_--"to the fairest
portion of the community." This _expurgate_ selection, however, though
it contains many passages of great beauty, is a book which I should be
sorry indeed to place in the hands of any young lady; and one against
which I would _forewarn_ every young man, who is not prepared to run the
risk of sacrificing, at the shrine of genius, Christian faith, and
Christian soberness, and Christian purity.

The description of the shipwreck had been spoken of as particularly
fine. I read it. Not long since several accounts of actual shipwrecks
and disasters at sea were published[159:1]. Some of these accounts, are
among the most interesting and edifying narratives, that I am acquainted
with. They abound in instances of heroic courage, of unshaken endurance,
of a noble disregard of self, of the warmest benevolence, and of the
most exalted piety. Don Juan seems to have taken a wayward pleasure in
culling from these narratives the most distressing and painful facts,
and then mixing them up in doggrel verse, with ludicrous images and
ludicrous rhymes; the main _wit_ often consisting in some unexpected
absurdity of sound or cadence.

One of the most dreadful consequences of shipwreck is, when a remnant of
the crew, cast off in an open boat, are reduced, by extremity of
hunger, to determine by lot, which of them shall first be made the food
of his companions. Even in such calamity, this perverse and bitter
spirit contrives to find matter for merriment. He laughed in himself
when he wrote the stanzas, and tries to make his readers laugh; though
they must feel indignant with themselves if they give way to the

I conclude my letter with two sayings of Bishop Horne's. "He who
sacrifices religion to wit, like the people mentioned by Ælian, worships
a fly, and offers up an ox to it." Again; "Sir Peter Lely made it a
rule, never to look at a bad picture, having found, by experience,
that, whenever he did so, his pencil took a tint from it. Apply this to
bad books and bad company."

However brilliant the talents of a writer may be, yet, if a book has a
tendency to produce a bad effect upon the moral habits of the mind, that
book is a _bad_ book.

    "When I behold a genius bright and base,
    Of tow'ring talents, and terrestrial aims;
    Methinks I see, as thrown from her high sphere,
    The glorious fragments of a soul immortal,
    With rubbish mixt, and glitt'ring in the dust."

  I remain,
  My dear Nephew,
  Your affectionate Uncle.


[147:1] Rev. Hugh James Rose.

[155:1] Childe Harold and the _four_ first tales (I am speaking only of
the larger works) are most free from objection, at the same time that
they are the most beautiful and interesting.

[159:1] The Loss of the Kent, and Narratives of the Shipwrecks of the
Lady Hobart packet, the Cabalva, &c. &c.


_A Prayer before Study._


Almighty God, in whose hands are all the powers of man; who givest
understanding and takest it away; who, as it seemeth good unto thee,
enlightenest the thoughts of the simple, and darkenest the meditations
of the wise, be present with me in my studies and inquiries.

Grant, O Lord, that I may not lavish away the life which thou hast given
me on useless trifles, nor waste it in vain searches after things which
thou hast hidden from me.

Enable me, by thy Holy Spirit, so to shun sloth and negligence, that
every day may discharge part of the task which thou hast allotted me;
and so further with thy help that labour which, without thy help, must
be ineffectual, that I may obtain in all my undertakings such success as
will most promote thy glory, and the salvation of my own soul, for the
sake of Jesus Christ.

_Prayer after Time unprofitably spent._


O Lord, in whose hands are life and death; by whose power I am
sustained, and by whose mercy I am spared, look down upon me with pity.
Forgive me, that I have this day neglected the duty which thou hast
assigned to it, and suffered the hours, of which I must give account, to
pass away without any endeavour to accomplish thy will, or to promote my
own salvation. Make me to remember, O God, that every day is thy gift,
and ought to be used according to thy command. Grant me, therefore, so
to repent of my negligence, that I may obtain mercy from thee, and pass
the time which thou shalt yet allow me in diligent performance of thy
commands, through Jesus Christ. _Amen._

_Prayer for Temperance._


O Almighty God and gracious Father of men and angels, who openest thy
hand and fillest all things living with plenty; and hast provided for
thy servant sufficient to satisfy all my needs: teach me to use thy
creatures soberly and temperately, that I may not with loads of meat and
drink make the temptations of my enemy to prevail upon me, or my spirit
unapt for the performance of my duty, or my body healthless, or my
affections sensual and unholy. O my God, never suffer that the blessings
which thou givest me may minister either to sin or sickness, but to
health, and holiness, and thanksgiving; that in the strength of thy
provision I may cheerfully, and actively, and diligently serve thee;
that I may worthily feast at thy table here, and be accounted worthy,
through thy grace, to be admitted to thy table hereafter, through Jesus
Christ, our Mediator and Redeemer. _Amen._

_Prayer for the right government of the tongue._

O God, watch over me this day for good; and grant that I may so keep
the door of my mouth that I may not speak unadvisedly with my lips.
Preserve me from offending with my tongue either against charity or
purity. Let me not be guilty of foolish and immodest talking and
jesting, of evil-speaking or censoriousness, or of any other of the many
sins of the tongue. Grant that all my conversation may be such as
becometh one who professes to be the servant and disciple of thy beloved
Son, in whose name I beseech thee to hear my prayers.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Advice to a Young Man upon First Going to Oxford - In Ten Letters, From an Uncle to His Nephew" ***

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