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

by Harvey Newcomb, 1847


The inhabitants of New England have the reputation of being inquisitive to a fault; and perhaps with some justice. This disposition grows out of a good trait of character, carried to an extreme. It comes from a desire after knowledge. But this desire becomes excessive, when exercised with reference to matters which it does not concern us to know. When it leads us to pry into the concerns of others, from a mere vain curiosity, it becomes a vice. There are some people who can never be satisfied, until they see the inside of everything. They must know the 'why and the wherefore' of everything they meet with. I have heard an amusing anecdote of this sort. There was a man who had lost his nose. A Yankee, seeing him, desired to know how so strange a thing had happened. After enduring his importunity for some time, the man declared he would tell him, if he would promise to ask him no more questions; to which the other agreed. "Well," said the man, "it was bit off." "Ah," replied the Yankee, "I wish I knew who bit it off!" This is a fair specimen of the morbid appetite created by excessive inquisitiveness.

When inquisitiveness goes no farther than a strong desire to obtain useful information, and to inquire into the reason of things, or when it desires information concerning the affairs of others from benevolent sympathy, then it is a valuable trait of character. But when the object is to gratify an idle curiosity, it is annoying to others, and often leads the person who indulges it into serious difficulty. And the more it is indulged, the more it craves. If you gratify this disposition until it grows into a habit, you will find it very difficult to control. You will never be able to let anything alone. You will want to look into every drawer in the house; to open every bundle that you see; and never be satisfied until you have seen the inside of everything. This will lead you into temptation. It can hardly be supposed that one who is so anxious to see everything should have no desire to possess the things that are seen. Thus, what began in curiosity may end in coveting and thieving. But if it does not lead you so far astray as this, it will bring you into serious difficulty with your parents, or your friends whose guest you are; for they will not be satisfied to have their drawers tumbled, packages opened, and every nice article fingered. This disposition, too, will lead you to inquire into the secrets of your friends; and this will furnish a temptation to tattling. What you have been at such pains to obtain, you will find it difficult to keep to yourself. You will want to share the rare enjoyment with others. And when the story comes round to your friend or companion, whose confidence you have betrayed, you will, to your great chagrin and mortification, be discarded.

A delicate sense of propriety will lead you to avoid prying too closely into the affairs of others. You will never do it from mere curiosity. But if any of your friends so far make you a confidant as to lead you to suppose that they need your sympathy or aid, you may, in a delicate manner, inquire farther, in order to ascertain what aid you can render. You may, also, make some general inquiries of strangers, in order to show an interest in their affairs. But beyond this, you cannot safely indulge this disposition.