Choice Of Friends, And Behaviour In Society

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 ife, 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.

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 popular.

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 background. 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 mariner, 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 anything 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 I. 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 everything. 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.

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 society.

Charity suffereth long-it bears patiently with other men’s defects of temper, discourteousness of behaviour, and awkwardness of manner ; and is hind, gentle, and obliging.

Charity envieth not. 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; it is not rash or over hasty ; it is not overbearing, positive, and peremptory, in language or manner ; is not pled; is not inflated with an opinion of its own worth or consequence ; and, that being the case, it doth not behave itself unseemly–; it does not treat other men with disdain and superciliousness.

Charity seeketh not her own—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. 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; 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 everything, 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.

I remain,

Your affectionate Uncle.

See Jones’s Letters from a Tutor to his Pupils.