Letter I

My dear young friends,

Circumstances having unavoidably interrupted that habitual intercourse we once enjoyed, I seek to relieve the pain of absence and the solicitude of affection, by communicating to you some of the various thoughts and feelings which an anxiety for your welfare inspires; for, wherever situated, or however circumstanced, I think of you with the most tender interest, and should deem it one of the happiest privileges of my life, to contribute to your improvement in happiness and virtue. You have ratified me by your attention; you have indulged me with your regard; and may I not venture to hope, that you will peruse the following pages with some degree of partial kindness? They will then be conducive to the end I have in view – your present enjoyment, and your eternal [2] eternal felicity. It is probable that you will meet here with little that is new, and it is certain that you will find nothing brilliant; but I seek to benefit rather than to entertain. Happily, young persons can find amusement in almost every thing; but the opening mind, the mind formed for perfection and immortality, wants something more: in those moments when this want is felt, should religious principles be strengthened, and benevolent affections increased, by any hints in this little volume, ambition will be satisfied, and solicitude repaid.

I do not mean to weary you with a dry system of instruction, which would be but partially comprehended, and seldom applied. My aim is to aid you in the little every-day concerns of life, and to suggest some hints for that mode of conduct which may most effectually promote your own happiness, and that of all around you.

Nothing is more common than to hear it said of young persons of fifteen or sixteen years of age: “They have finished their education.” Probably they may have left school; but it will be found, that, in general, they have every thing useful, and every thing important, to acquire. The whole of life, my dear children, is the period of education, and in this sense, I am a learner as well as you; but, by having existed [3] many years longer, I ought to have made a further progress, and to be able to assist those who are so far behind. To me it appears pleasant to begin with the important idea that we have always something to learn; and with the constant desire of improvement, every scene, every object, every occurrence, affords a new lesson from which instruction may be gained.

On entering the busy scenes of life we feel a capacity for happiness, and a wish to secure it. At first no other path to it is perceived than the gratification of every wish; and after each disappointment, we vainly flatter ourselves that the next objet we pursue will secure the promised good. This is a mistake, and the conviction of it ought to check that undue ardour which sometimes leads to the use of improper means to secure the desired end. Whenever truth must be sacrificed, duty neglected, or our best friends disobliged, in order to obtain what we wish for, we may rest assured that we are mistaken, and the object, if attained, would disappoint our wishes. There is a set of enjoyments suited to every age and condition; and while we endeavour to keep in the path of duty, we shall find them insensibly springing around us, even from a variety of unexpected causes. The various beauties of nature and art, the endearing ties of affinity and affection, the convenient accommodations of life, [4] are all sources of great pleasure; and while the disposition to be pleased is cherished, we may always find something to be grateful for an to enjoy.

But it is not any of these, nor all of them, which can render us completely happy. Could we command all that the world can bestow, with bad principles and unamiable dispositions, we should still be restless and wretched. A profusion of external advantages may procure admission and increase influence; but the good seed must be sown within, in order to bring forth the fruit of peace here, or of full enjoyment hereafter. Just principles, virtuous aims, and benevolent dispositions, can alone enable us to improve the advantages of outward circumstances, or be rationally happy in any situation. However amiable any person may be, no one who is capable of the least reflection will fancy that he is a perfect creature. We soon find that we have an understanding which requires information, passions tat need control, and affections that ought to be regulated: and so great is the alteration necessary to be effected, that the Scripture expresses it by the term regeneration, which implies a thorough-change; “a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness.” It is not the efforts of others which can accomplish this, and yet it must be [5] produced before even the path of peace can be entered upon; for without it, the purest, the noblest pleasures of which we are capable, can never be secured. To the Father of our spirits means are not wanting to effect this; and he who, conscious of his blindness and dependance, bows his will to that of God, and seeks his guidance, will be led through this world in those “ways which are ways of pleasantness, and in that path which is a path of peace;” and in the world to come, will enjoy that perfect good after which he is continually aspiring.

An immense scene lies before us. Once called into existence, we become connected with all the present and all the future. It is true, that after a short duration here, we must undergo a solemn and an important change; but this change is momentary, and principally relates to the body. All that has been done in the mind exists with it: the consciousness of this aggrandizes the present state of existence, and gives dignity and importance to every scene, and to every event. To endeavour to act in the best manner possible, in these scenes and under these events, is, I apprehend, the noblest aim of every human being; and this desire, so far as the alteration of any circumstance relative to our condition depends upon ourselves, will help us to make such a choice as shall render the change [6] beneficial: and whenever that alteration depends on others, while we are intent only on deriving advantage from it, the result cannot prove ultimately injurious. This is connecting temporal things with things eternal; a momentary existence with everlasting duration. Not one just principle, not one right action, is lost: whatever their results be here, they tend to render the mind more meet for “glory, honour, and immortality.” Thus, you see, it is not splendour of action, nor publicity of situation, which renders character excellent: it is purity of design, it is piety of endeavour.

These aims, be assured, my dear children, can alone secure any tolerable portion of comfort. That of all which they are calculated to bestow may be yours, is the fervent wish of

Your sincere Friend,

And affectionate Aunt.