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George Washington to George Washington Parke Custis
28 November 1796
Call number: Mss1 C9698a 228
Philadelphia, November 28,1796.
In a few hasty lines, covering your sister's
letter and a comb, on Saturday last, I promised to write more
fully to you by the post of this day. I am now in the act of
performing that promise.
The assurances you give me of applying diligently to your
studies, and fulfilling those obligations which are enjoined by
your Creator and due to his creatures, are highly pleasing and
satisfactory to me. I rejoice in it on two accounts; first, as it is
the sure means of laying the foundation of your own happiness,
and rendering you, if it should please God to spare your
life, a useful member of society hereafter; and secondly, that I
may, if I live to enjoy the pleasure, reflect that I have been, in
some degree, instrumental in effecting these purposes.
You are now extending into that stage of life when good or
bad habits are formed. When the mind will be turned to
things useful and praiseworthy, or to dissipation and vice. Fix
on whichever it may, it will stick by you; for you know it has
been said, and truly, "that as the twig is bent so it will grow."
This, in a strong point of view, shows the propriety of letting
your inexperience be directed by maturer advice, and in placing
guard upon the avenues which lead to idleness and vice.
The latter will approach like a thief, working upon your passions;
encouraged, perhaps, by bad examples; the propensity
to which will increase in proportion to the practice of it and
your yielding. This admonition proceeds from the purest affection
for you; but I do not mean by it, that you are to become
a stoic, or to deprive yourself in the intervals of study of any
recreations or manly exercise which reason approves.
'Tis well to be on good terms with all your fellow-students,
and I am pleased to hear you are so, but while a courteous behavior
is due to all, select the most deserving only for your
friendships, and before this becomes intimate, weigh their dispositions
and character well. True friendship is a plant of slow
growth; to be sincere, there must be a congeniality of temper
and pursuits. Virtue and vice can not be allied; nor can idleness
and industry; of course, if you resolve to adhere to the two
former of these extremes, an intimacy with those who incline
to the latter of them, would be extremely embarrassing to
you; it would be a stumbling block in your way; and act like a
millstone hung to your neck, for it is the nature of idleness and
vice to obtain as many votaries as they can.
I would guard you, too, against imbibing hasty and unfavorable
impressions of any one. Let your judgment always balance well
before you decide; and even then, where there is no
occasion for expressing an opinion, it is best to be silent, for
there is nothing more certain than that it is at all times more
easy to make enemies than friends. And besides, to speak evil
of any one, unless there is unequivocal proofs of their deserving
it, is an injury for which there is no adequate reparation.
For, as Shakespeare says "He that robs me of my good name
enriches not himself, but renders me poor indeed," or words
to that effect.
I have said this much before I mention any thing relative to the unpleasant
situation you seem to be placed in with [illegible]. His character as you must
believe could only be known to me from Reports - and that
Report was received from Doctr. Smith, who could have had no interest
in making an erroneous one; - nor is it likely he could have been declined
in the literary abilities if he had been so in the moral character of that young
man. If however you are more likely to receive any benefit from being in
the same Chamber with Mr. [illegible] (which was the great object with me)
or feel any particular inconvenience from having two others (instead of one,
as is usual) in the same room with you, -and above all, if you perceive
anything indecent, or immoral in his conduct, & will repeat to me
your wish to be removed, I will write to the President of the College
requesting him to do it accordingly; but remember I must give the
reasons with which you furnish me, and that these, to avoid the imputation
of whim, or caprice, ought to be just.
Keep another thing also in mind that scarcely any change would be
agreeable to you at first from the sudden transition, and from
never having been accustomed to shift or rough it. And, moreover,
that if you meet with collegiate fare, it will be unmanly
to complain. My paper reminds me it is time to conclude which I do.
P. S. I presume you received my letter covering a ten-dollar
bill to pay for your gown, although it is not mentioned. To
acknowledge' the receipt of letters is always proper, to remove
doubts of their miscarriage.