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COBBETT'S ADVICE TO YOUNG MEN
And (Incidentally) to Young Women, in the Middle and Higher Ranks of Life. In a Series of Letters, Addressed to a Youth, a Bachelor, a Lover, a Husband, a Father, a Citizen, or a Subject.
(From the Edition of 1829) London Henry Frowde 1906 Oxford: Horace Hart Printer to the University
1. It is the duty, and ought to be the pleasure, of age and experience to warn and instruct youth and to come to the aid of inexperience. When sailors have discovered rocks or breakers, and have had the good luck to escape with life from amidst them, they, unless they be pirates or barbarians as well as sailors, point out the spots for the placing of buoys and of lights, in order that others may not be exposed to the danger which they have so narrowly escaped. What man of common humanity, having, by good luck, missed being engulfed in a quagmire or quicksand, will withhold from his neighbours a knowledge of the peril without which the dangerous spots are not to be approached?
2. The great effect which correct opinions and sound principles, imbibed in early life, together with the good conduct, at that age, which must naturally result from such opinions and principles; the great effect which these have on the whole course of our lives is, and must be, well known to every man of common observation. How many of us, arrived at only forty years, have to repent; nay, which of us has not to repent, or has not had to repent, that he did not, at an earlier age, possess a great stock of knowledge of that kind which has an immediate effect on our personal ease and happiness; that kind of knowledge, upon which the cheerfulness and the harmony of our homes depend!
3. It is to communicate a stock of this sort of knowledge, in particular, that this work is intended; knowledge, indeed, relative to education, to many sciences, to trade, agriculture, horticulture, law, government, and religion; knowledge relating, incidentally, to all these; but, the main object is to furnish that sort of knowledge to the young which but few men acquire until they be old, when it comes too late to be useful.
4. To communicate to others the knowledge that I possess has always been my taste and my delight; and few, who know anything of my progress through life, will be disposed to question my fitness for the task. Talk of rocks and breakers and quagmires and quicksands, who has ever escaped from amidst so many as I have! Thrown (by my own will, indeed) on the wide world at a very early age, not more than eleven or twelve years, without money to support, without friends to advise, and without book-learning to assist me; passing a few years dependent solely on my own labour for my subsistence; then becoming a common soldier and leading a military life, chiefly in foreign parts, for eight years; quitting that life after really, for me, high promotion, and with, for me, a large sum of money; marrying at an early age, going at once to France to acquire the French language, thence to America; passing eight years there, becoming bookseller and author, and taking a prominent part in all the important discussions of the interesting period from 1793 to 1799, during which there was, in that country, a continued struggle carried on between the English and the French parties; conducting myself, in the ever-active part which I took in that struggle, in such a way as to call forth marks of unequivocal approbation from the government at home; returning to England in 1800, resuming my labours here, suffering, during these twenty-nine years, two years of imprisonment, heavy fines, three years self-banishment to the other side of the Atlantic, and a total breaking of fortune, so as to be left without a bed to lie on, and, during these twenty-nine years of troubles and of punishments, writing and publishing, every week of my life, whether in exile or not, eleven weeks only excepted, a periodical paper, containing more or less of matter worthy of public attention; writing and publishing, during _the same twenty-nine years_, a grammar of the French and another of the English language, a work on the Economy of the Cottage, a work on Forest Trees and Woodlands, a work on Gardening, an account of America, a book of Sermons, a work on the Corn-plant, a History of the Protestant Reformation; all books of great and continued sale, and the _last_ unquestionably the book of greatest circulation in the whole world, the Bible only excepted; having, during _these same twenty-nine years_ of troubles and embarrassments without number, introduced into England the manufacture of Straw-plat; also several valuable trees; having introduced, during _the same twenty-nine years_, the cultivation of the Corn-plant, so manifestly valuable as a source of food; having, during the same period, always (whether in exile or not) sustained a shop of some size, in London; having, during the whole of the same period, never employed less, on an average, than ten persons, in some capacity or other, exclusive of printers, bookbinders, and others, connected with papers and books; and having, during these twenty-nine years of troubles, embarrassments, prisons, fines, and banishments, bred up a family of seven children to man's and woman's state.
5. If such a man be not, after he has survived and accomplished all this, qualified to give Advice to Young Men, no man is qualified for that task. There may have been natural _genius_: but genius _alone_, not all the genius in the world, could, without _something more_, have conducted me through these perils. During these twenty-nine years, I have had for deadly and ever-watchful foes, a government that has the collecting and distributing of sixty millions of pounds in a year, and also every soul who shares in that distribution. Until very lately, I have had, for the far greater part of the time, the whole of the press as my deadly enemy. Yet, at this moment, it will not be pretended, that there is another man in the kingdom, who has so many cordial friends. For as to the _friends_ of _ministers_ and the _great_, the friendship is towards the _power_, the _influence_; it is, in fact, towards _those taxes_, of which so many thousands are gaping to get at a share. And, if we could, through so thick a veil, come at the naked fact, we should find the subscription, now going on in Dublin for the purpose of erecting a monument in that city, to commemorate the good recently done, or alleged to be done, to Ireland, by the DUKE of WELLINGTON; we should find, that the subscribers have _the taxes_ in view; and that, if the monument shall actually be raised, it ought to have _selfishness_, and not _gratitude_, engraven on its base. Nearly the same may be said with regard to all the praises that we hear bestowed on men in power. The friendship which is felt towards me is pure and disinterested: it is not founded in any hope that the parties can have, that they can ever _profit_ from professing it: it is founded on the gratitude which they entertain for the good that I _have done_ them; and, of this sort of friendship, and friendship so cordial, no man ever possessed a larger portion.
6. Now, mere _genius_ will not acquire this for a man. There must be something more than _genius_: there must be industry: there must be perseverance: there must be, before the eyes of the nation, proofs of extraordinary exertion: people must say to themselves, 'What wise conduct must there have been in the employing of the time of this man! How sober, how sparing in diet, how early a riser, how little expensive he must have been!' These are the things, and _not genius_, which have caused my labours to be so incessant and so successful: and, though I do not affect to believe, that _every young man_, who shall read this work, will become able to perform labours of equal magnitude and importance, I do pretend, that _every_ young man, who will attend to my advice, will become able to perform a great deal more than men generally do perform, whatever may be his situation in life; and, that he will, too, perform it with greater ease and satisfaction than he would, without the advice, be able to perform the smaller portion.
7. I have had, from thousands of young men, and men advanced in years also, letters of thanks for the great benefit which they have derived from my labours. Some have thanked me for my Grammars, some for my Cottage Economy, others for the Woodlands and the Gardener; and, in short, for every one of my works have I received letters of thanks from numerous persons, of whom I had never heard before. In many cases I have been told, that, if the parties had had my books to read some years before, the gain to them, whether in time or in other things, would have been very great. Many, and a great many, have told me, that, though long at school, and though their parents had paid for their being taught English Grammar, or French, they had, in a short time, learned more from my books, on those subjects, than they had learned, in years, from their teachers. How many gentlemen have thanked me, in the strongest terms, for my Woodlands and Gardener, observing (just as Lord Bacon had observed in his time) that they had before seen no books, on these subjects, that they could _understand_! But, I know not of anything that ever gave me more satisfaction than I derived from the visit of a gentleman of fortune, whom I had never heard of before, and who, about four years ago, came to thank me in person for a complete reformation, which had been worked in his son by the reading of my two SERMONS on _drinking_ and on _gaming_.
8. I have, therefore, done, already, a great deal in this way: but, there is still wanting, in a compact form, a body of ADVICE such as that which I now propose to give: and in the giving of which I shall divide my matter as follows. 1. Advice addressed to a YOUTH; 2. Advice addressed to a BACHELOR; 3. Advice addressed to a LOVER; 4. To a HUSBAND; 5. To a FATHER; 6. To a CITIZEN or SUBJECT.
9. Some persons will smile, and others laugh outright, at the idea of 'Cobbett's giving advice for conducting the affairs of _love_.' Yes, but I was once young, and surely I may say with the poet, I forget which of them,
'Though old I am, for ladies' love unfit, The power of beauty I remember yet.'
I forget, indeed, the _names_ of the ladies as completely, pretty nigh, as I do that of the poets; but I remember their influence, and of this influence on the conduct and in the affairs and on the condition of men, I have, and must have, been a witness all my life long. And, when we consider in how great a degree the happiness of all the remainder of a man's life depends, and always must depend, on his taste and judgment in the character of a lover, this may well be considered as the most important period of the whole term of his existence.
10. In my address to the HUSBAND, I shall, of course, introduce advice relative to the important duties of _masters_ and _servants_; duties of great importance, whether considered as affecting families or as affecting the community. In my address to the CITIZEN or SUBJECT, I shall consider all the reciprocal duties of the governors and the governed, and also the duties which man owes to his neighbour. It would
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