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guishcd in your future career for your virtues, or talents, or accomplishments, this self-knowledge of which I am speaking is above all things requisite. For how is your moral character to be improved, unless you know what are the virtues and vices which your natural disposition is calculated to foster, and what are the passions which are most apt to govern you? How are you to attain eminence in any talent or pursuit, unless you know in what particular way your powers of mind best capacitate you for excelling? It is therefore my intention, in this letter, to offer you a few hints on this most important subject.
When you come to look abroad into the world, and to study the different characters of men, you will find that the happiness of any individual depends not, as you would suppose, on the advantages of fortune or situation, but principally on the regulation of his own mind. If you are able to secure tranquillity within, you will not be much annoyed by any disturbance without. The great art of doing this consists in a proper government of the passions. In taking care that no propensity is suffered to acquire so much power over your mind as to be the cause of immoderate uneasiness, either to yourself or others, I insist particularly on this point, my dear young friend, because, if I am not greatly deceived, you are yourself very much disposed by nature to two passions, the most tormenting to the possessor, and the most offensive to others, of any which afflict the human race; I mean, pride and anger. Indeed, these two dispositions seem to be naturally connected with each other; for you have probably remarked, that most proud men are addicted to anger, and that most passionate men are also proud. Be this as it may, I can confidently assure you, that if an attempt is not made to subdue those uneasy propensities now, when your temper is flexible, and your mind easy of impression, they will most infallibly prove the bane and torment of your whole life. They will not only destroy all possibility of your enjoying any happiness yourself, but they will produce the same effect on those about you; and by that means you will deprive yourself both of the respect of others, and the approbation of your own heart; the only two sources from which can be derived any substantial comfort or real enjoyment.
It is moreover a certain principle in morals, that all the bad passions, but especially those of which we are speaking, defeat, in all cases, their own purposes; a position which appears quite evident on the slightest examination. For what is the object which the proud man has constantly in view? Is it not to gain distinction, and respect, and consideration among mankind? Now it is unfortunately the nature of pride to aim at this distinction, not by striving to acquire such virtues and talents as would really entitle him to it, but by labouring to exalt himself above his equals by little and degrading methods; by endeavouring, for example, to outvie them in dress, or show, or expense, or by affecting to look down with haughty superciliousness on such as are inferior to himself only by some accidental advantages for which he is no way indebted to his own merit. The consequence of this is, that all mankind declare war against him; his inferiors, whom he affects to despise, will hate him, and consequently will exert themselves to injure and depress him; and his superiors, whom he attempts to imitate, will ridicule his absurd and unavailing efforts to invade what they consider as their own peculiar province.
If it may with truth be said, that a proud man defeats his own purposes, the same may, with equal certainty, be affirmed of a man who gives way to violence of temper. His angry invectives, his illiberal abuse, and his insulting language, produce very little effect on those who hear him, and who, perhaps, only smile at his infirmities; but who can describe the intolerable pangs of vexation, rage, and remorse, by which the heart of a passionate man is successively ravaged? Alas! it is himself alone for whom the storm is pent up, who is torn by its violence, and not those against whom its fury is meant to be directed.
You will, I dare say, readily agree to the truth of all this; but you will perhaps be at a loss to conceive what can be my reasons for applying it to you. My principal reasons for thinking you subject to these unhappy failings are very cogent; and they are of such a nature, that it is peculiarly painful for me to state them. In a word, then, I have seen those hateful propensities govern you with such irresistible power, that they have overcome the strongest and most natural principle that can be supposed to reign in the heart of a young person; I mean the duty and affection you owe your parents. Surely it could be no common failing, no light or trivial fault of temper that could be sufficient to counteract the warmest feelings and strongest duties of a young mind! Duties and feelings so natural and so indispensable, that we justly conclude a young person who appears to be devoid of them can scarcely possess any other valuable quality. From such grounds, then, can you think me harsh or uncharitable, if I have formed such conclusions?
I have been urged to what I have said by an earnest wish for the improvement of your character, and particularly for the amelioration of your heart. In a future letter I shall pursue the subject, by endeavouring to give you some rules respecting the government and improvement of the understanding. I hope and believe that your conduct will be such as to render any future admonitions on the subjects of this letter entirely unnecessary.
I am, my dear pupil,
Yours affectionately, &c.