Against Yielding To The Influence Of Numbers


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 cowardice.

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. The 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 disapproves.

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 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, LC 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 I am no friend to the unnecessary imposition of oaths ; but, I own, I do not see how any tiling 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 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.