The Young Man's Guide to the Harmonious
Development of Christian Character

by Harvey Newcomb, 1847


Character is formed under a great variety of influences. Sometimes a very trifling circumstance gives direction to the whole course of one's life. And every incident that occurs, from day to day, is exerting a silent, gradual influence, in the formation of your character. Among these influences, none are more direct and powerful than that exerted upon us by the companions with whom we associate; for we insensibly fall into their habits. This is especially true in childhood and youth, when the character is plastic, like soft wax—easily impressed.

But we cannot avoid associating, to some extent, with those whose influence is injurious. It is necessary, then, for us to distinguish society into general and particular. General society is that with which we are compelled to associate. Particular society is that which we choose for ourselves. In school, and in all public places, you are under the necessity of associating somewhat with all. But those whom you meet, in such circumstances, you are not compelled to make intimate friends. You may be courteous and polite to all, wherever and whenever you meet them, and yet maintain such a prudent reserve, and cautious deportment, as not to be much exposed to contamination, if they should not prove suitable companions.

But everyone needs intimate friends; and it is necessary that these should be well chosen. A bad friend may prove your ruin. You should therefore be slow and cautious in the formation of intimacies and friendships. Do not be suddenly taken with anyone, and so enter into a hasty friendship; for you may be mistaken, and soon repent of it. There is much force in the old adage, "All is not gold which glitters." A pleasing exterior often conceals a corrupt heart. Before you enter into close intimacies or friendships, study the characters of the people whom you propose to choose for companions. Watch their behavior and conversation; and if you discover any bad habits indulged, or anything that indicates a lack of principle, let them not become your companions. If you discover that they disregard any of the commandments of God, set them down as unsafe associates. They will not only be sure to lead you astray, but you can place no dependence upon their fidelity. If they will break one of God's commands, they will another; and you can put no confidence in them. But even where you discover no such thing, ask the opinion of your parents respecting them before you choose them as your friends. Yet, while you are in suspense about the matter, treat them courteously and kindly. But when you have determined to seek their friendship, do not impose your friendship on them against their will. Remember that they have the same right as yourself to the choice of their friends; and they may see some objection to the formation of a friendship with yourself. Be delicate, therefore, in your advances, and give them an opportunity to come half way. A friendship cautiously and slowly formed will be much more likely to last than one that is formed in haste.

But let the number of your intimate and confidential friends be small. It is better to have a few select, choice, and warm friends, than to have a great number, less carefully chosen, whose attachment is less warm and ardent. But you must not refuse to associate at all with the mass of the society where you belong; especially, if you live in the country. You must meet them kindly and courteously, on all occasions where the society in general in which you move is called together. You must not affect exclusiveness, nor confine yourself to the company of your particular friends, at such times. But be careful that you do not expose yourself to evil influences.

You ought not, at present, to form any intimate friendships with the other gender. Such friendships, at your age, are dangerous; and if not productive of any serious present evils, they will probably be subjects of regret when you come to years of maturity; for attachments may be formed that your judgment will then disapprove.