Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vol. III: Literature of the Revolutionary Period, 17651787
Advice to a Favorite Nephew
By George Washington (17321799)
[From a Letter to Bushrod Washington.Newburgh, 15 January, 1783.]
REMEMBER, that it is not the mere study of the law, but to become eminent in the profession of it, that is to yield honor and profit. The first was your choice; let the second be your ambition. Dissipation is incompatible with both; the company, in which you will improve most, will be least expensive to you; and yet I am not such a stoic as to suppose that you will, or to think it right that you should, always be in company with senators and philosophers; but of the juvenile kind let me advise you to be choice. It is easy to make acquaintances, but very difficult to shake them off, however irksome and unprofitable they are found, after we have once committed ourselves to them. The indiscretions, which very often they involuntarily lead one into, prove equally distressing and disgraceful.
Be courteous to all, but intimate with few; and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.
Let your heart feel for the afflictions and distresses of every one, and let your hand give in proportion to your purse; remembering always the estimation of the widows mite, but, that it is not every one who asketh, that deserveth charity; all, however, are worthy of the inquiry, or the deserving may suffer.
Do not conceive that fine clothes make fine men, any more than fine feathers make fine birds. A plain, genteel dress is more admired, and obtains more credit, than lace and embroidery, in the eyes of the judicious and sensible.
The last thing, which I shall mention, is first in importance; and that is, to avoid gaming. This is a vice, which is productive of every possible evil; equally injurious to the morals and health of its votaries. It is the child of avarice, the brother of iniquity, and the father of mischief. It has been the ruin of many worthy families, the loss of many a mans honor, and the cause of suicide. To all those who enter the lists, it is equally fascinating. The successful gamester pushes his good fortune, till it is overtaken by a reverse. The losing gamester, in hopes of retrieving past misfortunes, goes on from bad to worse, till grown desperate he pushes at everything and loses his all. In a word, few gain by this abominable practice, while thousands are injured.
Perhaps you will say, My conduct has anticipated the advice, and Not one of the cases applies to me. I shall be heartily glad of it. It will add not a little to my happiness, to find those to whom I am so nearly connected pursuing the right walk of life. It will be the sure road to my favor, and to those honors and places of profit, which their country can bestow; as merit rarely goes unrewarded. I am, dear Bushrod, your affectionate uncle.