Letters to Young Men



There’s nothing ill can dwell in such a temple.
If the ill spirit have so fair a house,
Good things will strive to dwell with ’t.


He that has light within his own clear breast
May sit i’ the centre and enjoy bright day ;
But he that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts,
Benighted walks under the mid-day sun,


IT is entirely natural for people to form habits, so that if bad habits be avoided, the good ones will generally take care of themselves, I had no intention when I commenced these letters of saying anything upon dogmatic theology, but I take the liberty of suggesting to those who are interested in this kind of thing that if there be anything that demonstrates total depravity, it is the readiness with which young men imbibe bad habits. I have seen original sin in the shape of “a short six” sticking out of the mouth of a lad of ten years. It is strange what particular pains boys and young men will take to learn to do that which will make them miserable, ruin their health, render them disgusting to their friends, and damage their reputation.

Some of the fashionable bad habits of the day are connected with the use of tobacco. Here is a drug that a young man is obliged to become accustomed to before he can tolerate either the taste or the effect of it. It is a rank vegetable poison; and in the unaccustomed animal produces vertigo, faintness, and horrible sickness. Yet young men persevere in the use of it until they can endure it, and then until they love it. They go about the streets with cigars in their mouths, or into society with breath sufficiently offensive to drive all unperverted nostrils before them. They chew tobacco — roll up huge wads of the vile drug and stuff their cheeks with them. They ejaculate their saliva upon the sidewalk, in the store, in spittoons which become incorporate stenches, in dark corners of railroad cars to stain the white skirts of unsuspecting women, in lecture-rooms and churches, upon fences, and into stoves that hiss with anger at the insult. And the quids after they are ejected! They are to be found in odd corners, in out-of-the-way places — great boulders, boluses, bulbs! Horses stumble over them, dogs bark at them ; they poison young shade-trees, and break down the constitutions of sweepers. This may be an exaggeration of the facts, but not of the disgust with which one writes of them.

Now, young men, just think of this thing! You are born into the world with a sweet breath. At a proper age, you acquire a good set of teeth. Why will you make of one a putrescent exhalation, and of the other a set of yellow pegs? A proper description of the habit of chewing tobacco would exhaust the filthy adjectives of the language, and spoil the adjectives themselves for further use; and yet, you will acquire the habit, and persist in it after it is acquired! It is very singular that young men will adopt a habit of which every man who is its victim is ashamed. There is, probably, no tobacco-chewer in the world who would advise a young man to commence this habit. I have never seen a slave of tobacco who did not regret his bondage; yet, against all advice, against nausea and disgust, against cleanliness, against every consideration of health and comfort, thousands every year bow the neck to this drug, and consent to wear its repulsive yoke. They will chew it; they will smoke it in cigars and pipes until their bed-rooms and shops cannot be breathed in, and until their breath is as rank as the breath of a foul beast, and their clothes have the odor of the sewer. Some of them take snuff; cram the fiery weed up their nostrils to irritate that subtle sense which rarest flowers were made to feed — in all this working against God, abusing nature, perverting sense, injuring health, planting the seeds of disease, and insulting the decencies of life and the noses of the world.

So much for the nature of the habit; and I would stop here, but for the fact that I am in earnest, and wish to present every motive in my power to prevent young men from forming the habit, or persuade them to abandon it. The habit of using tobacco is expensive. A clerk on a modest salary has no right to be seen with a cigar in his mouth. Three cigars a day, at five cents apiece, amount to more than fifty dollars a year. Can you afford it? You know you cannot. You know that to do this you have either got to run in debt or steal. Therefore I say that you have no business to be seen with a cigar in your mouth. It is presumptive evidence against your moral character.

Did it ever occur to you what you are, what you are made for, whither you are going? T hat beautiful body of yours, in whose construction infinite wisdom exhausted the resources of its ingenuity, is the temple of a soul that shall live for ever, a companion of angels, a searcher into the deep things of God, a being allied in essence to the divine. I say the body is the temple, or the tabernacle, of such a being as this; and what do you think of stuffing the front door of such a building full of the most disgusting weeds that you can find, or setting a slow match to it, or filling the chimneys with snuff? It looks to me much like an endeavor to smoke out the tenant, or to insult him in such a manner as to induce him to quit the premises. You really ought to be ashamed of such behavior. A clean mouth, a sweet breath, unstained teeth, and inoffensive clothing — are not these treasures worth preserving? Then throw away tobacco, and all thoughts of it, at once and for ever. Be a man. Be decent, and be thankful to me for talking so plainly to you.

But there are other bad habits besides the use of tobacco. There is the habit of using strong drink, — not the habit of getting drunk, with most young men, but the habit of taking drink occasionally in its milder forms — of playing with a small appetite that only needs sufficient playing with to make you a demon or a dolt. You think you are safe. I know you are not safe, if you drink at all ; and when you get offended with the good friends who warn you of your danger, I know you are a fool. I know that the grave swallows daily, by scores, drunkards, every one of whom thought he was safe while he was forming his appetite. But this is old talk. A young man in this age who forms the habit of drinking, or puts himself in danger of forming the habit, is usually so weak that it doesn’t pay to save him.

I pass by profanity. That is too offensive and vulgar a habit for any man who reads a respectable book to indulge in. I pass by this, I say; to come to a habit more destructive than any I have contemplated.

Young man! you who are so modest in the presence of women, — so polite and amiable ; you who are invited into families where there are pure and virtuous girls; you who go to church, and seem to be such a pattern young man; you who very possibly neither smoke, nor chew, nor snuff, nor swear, nor drink — you have one habit ten times worse than all these put together, — a habit that makes you a whited sepulchre, fair without, but within full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. You have a habit of impure thought, that poisons the very springs of your life. It may lead you into lawless indulgences, or it may not. So far as your character is concerned, it makes little difference. A young man who cherishes impure images, and indulges in impure conversations with his associates, is poisoned. There is rottenness in him. He is not to be trusted. Hundreds of thousands of men are living in unhappiness and degradation to-day who owe their unhappy lives to an early habit of impure thought. To a young man who has become poisoned in this way, women all appear to be vicious or weak; and when a young man loses his respect for the sex made sacred by the relations of mother and sister, he stands upon the crumbling edge of ruin. His sensibilities are killed, and his moral nature almost beyond the reach of regeneration. I believe it to be true that a man who has lost his belief in woman has, as a general thing, lost his faith in God.

The only proper way to treat such a habit as this is to fly from it — discard it — expel it — fight it to the death. Impure thought is a moral drug quite as seductive and Poisonous to the soul as tobacco is to the body. It perverts the tone of every fibre of the soul. One should have more respect for his body than to make it the abode of toads and lizards and unclean reptiles of all sorts. The whole matter resolves itself into this: A young man is not fit for life until he is clean — clean and healthy, body and soul, with no tobacco in his mouth, no liquor in his stomach, no oath on his tongue, no snuff in his nose, and no thought in his heart which if exposed would send him sneaking into darkness from the presence of good women. I know a man who believes that the regeneration of the world is to be brought about by a change of diet. If he will add the policy of utter cleanliness to his scheme, I will agree not to quarrel with him.

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