In one sense, very young persons are apt to think too much of
themselves–in another, not enough. When they think they know more than
their parents and teachers, or other elderly people, and so set up to
be _bold_ and _smart_, then they think too much of themselves. It used
to be said, when I was a boy, that “Young folks _think_ old folks are
fools; but old folks _know_ young folks are fools.” Although I would
be very far indeed from calling you _fools_, because you have already
acquired much knowledge, and have the capacity for acquiring much more,
yet, with reference to such knowledge as is acquired by _experience_,
and in comparison with _what there is to be known_, there is “more
truth than _poetry_,” in the old adage. But, when young people suppose
it is of no consequence what they do, or how they behave, _because they
are young_, then they do not think enough of themselves. Should you see
a man riding with a little stick for a whip, you would not think his
stick worth your notice at all; but the biggest tree that ever I saw
grew from a little willow stick that a man rode home with, and then
planted in his garden. You have sat under the beautiful shade of a
great elm-tree; and when you have looked upon its tall, majestic trunk,
and its great and strong branches, with their ten thousand little limbs
waving gracefully before the wind, you have been filled with admiration
and delight. “What a mighty tree!” you say; “I wonder how long it has
been growing.” But the seed of that tree, when it was planted, many
years ago, was no bigger than a mustard-seed; and if you had seen the
little tiny sprout that your grandfather was tying up with so much
care, when it was a few years old, you would have wondered that a man
should think so much of such an insignificant twig. But, if he had let
it grow up as it began, without any care, it never would have been the
stately tree it is now. That was the most important period in its life,
when it was a little twig. It began to lean over, and grow crooked and
ugly. If it had not been trained up then, it would have continued to
grow worse and worse; and, after it had grown to be a tree, it could
not have been straightened at all. Now, you are, in some respects,
like this little twig. You, too, have just begun to be; and now your
character is pliable, like the young tree. But, unlike it, your being
is to have no end. Instead of growing a few hundred years, like a great
tree, you are to live forever. And every thing that you do now must
have an influence in forming your character for your whole being. In
this latter sense, you cannot think too much of yourself; for you are
the _germ_ of an immortal being.

Did you ever stand by the shore of a placid lake or pond, in a calm,
sunny day, and throw a little stone into its smooth, silvery waters?
Did you observe how, first, a little ripple was formed around the
place where it struck, and this was followed by a wave, and then,
beyond, another, and another, till the whole surface of the water was
disturbed? It was a very little thing that you did; and yet it agitated
a great body of water. So it is with childhood and youth; the most
insignificant action you perform, in its influence upon your character,
will reach through the whole period of your existence.

It will not do for you to say, “It is no matter how I behave now; I
shall do differently when I am a man.” “But would you have a little
boy act like a man?” Not exactly. I would not have him affect the
man, and appear as though he thought himself a full-grown gentleman.
I would not have him imitate the _toad_, which undertook to swell to
the size of an _ox_, and in the operation burst open. But, I would
have him _manly_ in his childishness. I would have him courageous, to
meet difficulties, noble and generous in his feelings and actions, and
courteous in his manners, always, in all companies, and in all places,
behaving in a manner becoming a person of his age. A well-bred boy, who
knows what is becoming and proper, and carries it out in his behavior,
is already a _gentleman_. But the mischievous, rude, unmannerly lad,
who pays no regard to propriety of conduct, will never be a gentleman.
And a boy who has the courage to face difficulties, and the energy and
perseverance to accomplish what he undertakes, is already _a man_;
while the indolent, cowardly, “_I can’t_” boy, will _never be a man_.
It is my desire, in this book, to lead you to the formation of a solid,
energetic, manly character, combined with true gentility of manners;
and then you will be both a _man_ and a _gentleman_.

Very young persons sometimes live in an _ideal world_. What they
imagine in their plays seems real. They have a little fairy world in
their minds, in which they live more, and take greater delight, than
they do in what is real and true. To this I do not object, within
certain bounds; but often it becomes a _passion_, so that they lose
all relish for sober, every-day life. For such creatures of fancy real
life is too dull, and what concerns realities, too grave. Perhaps they
will not like my book, because it treats of things true and real. But
I beg them to consider that, through the whole of their being, they
are to be concerned chiefly with _realities_; and therefore, to do
them substantial good, we must speak to them of things real, and not
of those airy things that belong to the fairy land. But real things
are, truly, more interesting than the creations of fancy. The things of
fancy interest you more only because they appear new and less common.
A person who has always lived in the country, and is used to sitting
under the wide-spreading, shady tree, would be more pleased with the
_picture_ of a tree than with a _tree itself_. But one brought up in
the city would cast away the picture, and hasten to enjoy the cool
shade of the beautiful tree. A castle in the air may please the fancy;
but you want a _real house_ to live in.

Perhaps some of my readers, when they see the title of this chapter,
will think only of confinement in school, of books, and of hard study,
and so be inclined to pass over it, as a dry subject, which they have
so much to do with, every day, that they have no wish to think of it in
a moment of relaxation. But I beg them to stop a minute, and not throw
me away, among the old school-books, till they have heard me through. I
assure them that I use the term _education_ in a far different sense.
I think it means much more than going to school and studying books.
This is only a small part of education. Mr. Walker defines education,
“_The formation of manners in youth._” But this is a very imperfect
definition; and I am afraid there may be found some who would even
doubt whether education has any thing to do with manners. Mr. Webster
gives a better definition:–“Education comprehends all that series
of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the
understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of
youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations;”–all, in
fact, that is necessary to make a _man_ or a _woman_–a _gentleman_ or
a _lady_.

The original root, from which the word _education_ is derived, means to
_lead out_, to _conduct_, to _form_, to _fashion_, to _beat out_, to
_forge_. It was used with reference to the forging of an instrument out
of a piece of metal, or the chiselling of a statue out of a block of
marble. This furnishes a good illustration of my ideas of _education_.
It is a process by which a character is formed out of rude or unwrought
materials. It is not confined to mere school learning. A person may be
very _learned_, and yet not half _educated_. There are many steps in
the process. The ore must first be dug up by the miner; then smelted
at the furnace, and the metal separated from the dross; then wrought
into bars at the foundry; afterwards forged by the smith; and then,
finally, polished by the finisher. The marble must first be quarried,
or blasted out of the ledge; then cut into blocks; then transported;
then wrought with the hammer and chisel; and finally, polished. This
gives a good idea of education. It is not merely what is done to form
the character in _school_; but it comprises all the influences which
are exerted upon the young, in training them up and forming their
characters. Education begins in the _family_. It is carried forward in
the _school_. It is affected, for good or for evil, by the influence
of public worship, lectures, books, amusements, scenery, companions,
&c. In all places and circumstances, something is doing towards the
formation of character.

Yet there is one important respect in which _education_, or _the
formation of character_, differs essentially from the process described
in this illustration. The block of marble, or the piece of metal, is
_passive_; the whole process is performed upon it by another. But
no person can be educated in this way; every one that is educated
must be _active_. You may be drilled through all the schools, and
have every advantage at home and in society; and yet, without your
own active coöperation, you can never be educated. But, if you are
determined to be educated, you will turn every thing to some account.
Every thing will be a school to you; for you will make contributions
to your stock of knowledge from every object you see; and by seeking
to act discreetly, wisely, and correctly, in every place, you will
be constantly forming good habits. Like the little busy bee, you
will suck honey from every flower. You will commune with your own
heart upon your bed, and exercise your powers of thought in useful
meditation. You will converse with God in your secret place, and seek
wisdom of Him who has promised to give liberally to those that ask. In
company, you will be more ready to hear than to speak; and you will
never meet with any so ignorant but you may learn from them some useful
lessons. You will exercise your mind upon every person and object you
meet. You will study philosophy in the fields, by the brooks, on the
hills, in the valleys, and upon the broad canopy of heaven. It has
been well observed, that the difference between a wise man and a fool
is, that one goes through the world with his eyes wide open, while the
other keeps them shut.

You will perceive, then, that your education is continually going on,
whether you think of it or not. Your character is constantly forming.
It is your business to keep out of the way of bad influences, and
submit yourself to the moulding of the good. Keep in mind the great
truth that you are forming a character for eternity. Some years ago,
there were found on the banks of the Mississippi River the tracks of
a human being, deeply imprinted in the solid rock. These tracks were
made in the soft clay, which in time became hardened, and formed into
stone;–now, the impression is immovable. You now resemble this soft
clay. Every thing with which you come in contact makes an impression.
But, as you grow older, your character acquires solidity, and is less
and less affected by these influences, till at length it will be like
the hard stone, and the impressions made upon you at this season will
become confirmed habits.

All the impressions made upon your character ought to be such as will
not need to be removed. Washington Allston, the great painter, had
been a long time at work on a most magnificent painting. He had nearly
completed it, when his keen eye discovered some defects in a portion
of the piece. He hastily drew his rough brush over that portion of the
picture, intending to paint it anew. But in the midst of his plans,
death seized him, and his painting remains, just as he left it. No
other person can carry out the conception that was in his mind. If you
allow wrong impressions to be made upon your forming character, death
may meet you with his stern mandate, and fix them forever, as immovable
as it left the rough print of the coarse brush upon Allston’s canvass.

A watch, to one who had never seen such a piece of mechanism before,
would be a great wonder. It is an object of much curiosity to the
natives of savage and barbarous tribes, visited by the missionaries.
It seems to speak and move, as though instinct with life. I have read,
somewhere, of a poor savage, who, seeing a white man’s watch lying
on the ground, and hearing it tick, supposed it to be some venomous
reptile, and, with a stone, dashed it in pieces. A watch is an object
of no less wonder to a child. Children are full of curiosity, as my
readers well know. They wish to examine every thing they see–to take
it in pieces, and see how it is made. I dare say my readers remember
the time when they sat on their father’s knee, and modestly requested
him to show them the little wheels of his watch.

If I could sit down with my young friends, and take my watch in pieces,
I would teach them a useful lesson. I would show them how a watch
resembles a human being. There is the _case_, which may be taken off,
and put by itself, and still the watch will go as well as ever. In this
respect, it is like the human body. Death separates it from the soul,
and yet the soul remains, with all its active powers. It still lives.
The inside of the watch, too, resembles the soul. It has a great many
different parts, all working together in harmony–a great many wheels,
all moving in concert. So the soul has a great many different powers
or faculties, all designed to operate in concert with each other, as
the _understanding_, the _judgment_, the _conscience_, the _will_,
the _affections_, the _memory_, the _passions_, _desires_, &c.; and
each one of these has a part to act, as important for the man as the
several wheels and springs of the watch. If every part of the watch is
in order, and in its proper place, it will keep exact time; but, if
one wheel gets disordered, it will derange the whole. The secret power
that moves the watch is unperceived. If you examine, you will see a
large wheel, with a smooth surface, round which is wound a long chain,
attached to another wheel, with ridges for the chain to run upon.
Inside of the first-named wheel is the _main-spring_, which, by means
of the chain, moves the whole machinery. The WILL is the main-spring
of the soul. By a mysterious, invisible chain, it holds all the powers
of the soul and body at its command. Not only the operations of the
mind, but the motions of the body are controlled by the will.

But, if there were no check upon the main-spring of the watch, it would
not give the time of day. It would set all the wheels in rapid motion,
and in a few moments the watch would run down. To prevent this, there
is a _balance-wheel_, which turns backwards and forwards, by means of a
fine spring, called the _hair-spring_, and so keeps the whole machinery
in a regular motion. To this is attached a little lever, called the
_regulator_, which, by a gentle touch, works on this delicate spring,
so as to move the balance-wheel faster or slower, as the case may be,
to make the movement exact and regular.

Now, if there were no checks on the will, it would run on impetuously
in its course, without regard to consequences. And this we often see
in persons called _wilful_, _self-willed_, _headstrong_. Children are
often so; if let alone, their stubborn will would lead them to rush on
headlong to their own destruction. Without meaning to be very accurate
in these illustrations, I shall call _judgment_ the _balance-wheel_.
This is the faculty which perceives, compares, and decides, keeps the
mind balanced, and prevents its running to extremes either way.

The _hair-spring_ and _regulator_ of the watch I shall compare
with _conscience_. A very slight touch of the regulator moves
the hair-spring, and gives a quicker or a slower motion to the
balance-wheel. But, if the watch is out of order, oftentimes the
movement of the regulator has no effect upon it. So, when the soul is
_in order_, a very slight touch of conscience will affect the judgment
and regulate the will. But often, the soul is so much _out of order_,
that conscience will have no effect upon it.

But who touches the regulator of the watch? There is nothing in the
watch itself to do this. The power that moves the regulator _is applied
to it_. So, the conscience is moved. The _Word of God_ enlightens the
conscience, and the _Spirit of God_ applies the word. And this brings
me to the point which I had in my mind when I began this chapter. What
a poor thing a watch is, when it is out of order. It is of no use. A
watch is made to keep the time of day; but, when it is out of order,
it will keep no time. Or, if it is in order, and yet not regulated, it
will not keep the right time.

Now until the heart is changed by the grace of God, the _soul is out
of order_. It does not answer the purpose for which it was made. The
_will_ is wrong; the _judgment_ is wrong; the _conscience_ is wrong.
And, whatever cultivation may be bestowed upon the mind, it will not
act aright. In the very beginning, then, you want _piety_, as the
_main-spring_ of action, and the _regulator_ of the soul. Without this,
you are not prepared to begin any thing aright. Indeed, without it,
you have no sufficient motive to action. You seem to be toiling and
laboring and wearying yourself for nothing. But _piety towards God_
gives a new impulse to the mind. When you set out to improve your mind,
if you have no piety, the object to be gained by it is very small. It
can secure to you no more than, perhaps, a little additional enjoyment,
for the brief space you are to continue in this world. But piety opens
to you a wide field of usefulness in this life, and the prospect of
going forward in the improvement of your mind as long as eternity
endures. It must, therefore, give a new spring and vigor to all the
faculties of the soul. It does more. It _regulates_ the powers of the
mind, and the affections of the heart, and gives a right direction to
them all.

I would persuade you, then, as the first and great thing, to _seek
God_. Remember what Christ has said,–“Seek ye first the kingdom of
God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto
you.” Here is the promise that you shall have all else that is needful,
if you seek God first. Yield your heart to him, and have his kingdom
set up there. Let him rule in your heart, and devote yourself to his
service, and he will supply all your need. This, also, will give a
right direction to all your faculties, and lay a good foundation
of character. But, without it, you will be like a watch without a
balance-wheel or a regulator; you will be fit neither for this life
nor that which is to come. And, it is of the utmost importance that
you should become pious now, while you are young. If you would form a
good character, you must have a good foundation laid at the beginning.
Nothing but this can make a good foundation. All your habits ought to
be formed and settled upon religious principles. Religious motives
should enter into all your efforts to improve your mind and cultivate
your affections. And, should you neglect religion now, and afterwards,
by the grace of God, be led to devote yourself to him, you will find
it hard and difficult to overcome the wrong habits of mind and conduct
which you will have formed.

_Piety_, then, is the first thing to be considered, in the _formation
of character_. And remember, also, that you are forming character _for
eternity_; and that your whole being, through a never ending existence,
is to be affected by the character which you form now in your childhood
and youth. If you lay the foundation of your character now in the love
and fear of God, it will rise higher and higher, in excellence, beauty,
and loveliness, for ever and ever. But if you lay the foundation in
selfishness and sin, and build accordingly, it will forever be sinking
lower in degradation and deeper in wretchedness.