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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Advice to a College Graduate

By Timothy Pickering (1745–1829)

[Born in Salem, Mass., 1745. Died there, 1829. From a Letter to his son Octavius, recently graduated at Harvard.—Life of Timothy Pickering. 1863–73.]

I HAD before thought of writing to you on the subject of your studies, although I trust you duly feel the importance of diligently pursuing them. Do not suffer yourself to be diverted from them by company or associations of any kind. Without secluding yourself from the other sex, let it occupy but a small portion of your time,—more precious to you than money; a contrary indulgence will make a fearful waste of both. Neither give yourself up to politics,—an evil at least as baneful in your situation and time of life as the other.

While the law engrosses most of your time, bear in mind the advice I gave you at home,—not to neglect your Latin and Greek. You must not be stationary in these languages. Read the classics so frequently, or rather so constantly, as to make them familiar, and the Greek Testament every Sunday. I feel sensibly on the subject, deeply mortified by my own deficiencies from conscious neglect of opportunities, now never to be recovered. And it is not mortification only, but a real disadvantage as a public man now, and the loss of high gratification as an individual, which compel me to press this matter on your attention. The classics of Greece and Rome are now also becoming objects of more diligent study than heretofore; and defective knowledge of them will henceforward be less excusable, and, by comparisons, more painful.

Attend to your position of body in reading and writing,—to avoid any one which can interfere with its vital functions, and daily take exercise enough to preserve you in vigorous health. That your eyes may not suffer, let the books you read be raised to the height of your eyes, so that you may read (whether sitting or standing) with your head erect.

I am pleased to find in your letter the evidence of proper attention to your handwriting; it greatly needed improvement, and you are not yet too old to amend it permanently. Above all, be careful to write legibly, if you should not write elegantly. Be particularly attentive to proper names, that every letter be clear and distinct, for so only can they be ascertained. Other words may be discovered by their connection; although it is a valuable attainment to write all words in legible character and expeditiously.

With tender and anxious affection, I give you this advice,

WASHINGTON, 14 December, 1810.