George Washington Papers

From George Washington to George Washington Parke Custis, 28 November 1796

Philadelphia 28th Novr 1796.

Dear Washington

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 second, 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 entering into that stage of life when good, or bad habits are formed: when the mind will be turned to thi[ngs] useful & 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 shews the propriety of letting your inexperience be directed by maturer advice; and in placing guards 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 wch, will increase in proportion to the practice of it and your yieldings. 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 recreation, 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 behaviour is due to all, select the most deserving only for your friendships, and before this becomes intimate, weigh their dispositions & character well. True friendship is a plant of slow growth; to be sincere there must be a congeniality of temper & pursuits. Virtue & vice cannot be allied; nor can industry and idleness; 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 & vice to Obtain as many votaries as they can.

I would guard you too against imbibing hasty, & unfavourable 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 Shakespear 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 thus much, before I mention any thing relative to the unpleasant situation you seem to be placed in with Mr . This character as you must believe could only be known to me from report; 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 deceived in the literary abilities, if he had been so in the moral character, of that young man. If however you are not likely to receive any benefit from being in the same Chamber with Mr (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 any thing 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, & 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 that 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 &ca although it is not mentioned—to acknowledge the rect of letters is always proper to remove doubts of their miscarriage.


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