H105, American History I

Thomas Shephard II, letter to his son Thomas Shepard III at college (1672).

Dear Son, I think meet (partly from the advice of your renowned Grandfather to myself att my admission into the College, and partly from some other observation I have had respecting studies in that society) to leave the Remembrances and advice following with you, in this great Change of your life, rather in writing, than viva voce only; that so they may be the better considered and improved by you, and may abide upon your heart when I shall be (and that may be sooner than you are aware) taken from thee, and speak no more:  requiring you frequently to read over, and seriously to ponder, and digest, as also conscientiously to putt in practice the same through the Lords assistance.

I.  Remember the end of your life, which is acoming back again to God, and fellowship with God; for as your great misery is your separation, and estrangement from him, so your happiness, or last end, is your Return again to him; and because there is no coming to God but by Christs Righteousness, and no Christ to be had but by faith, and no Faith without humiliation or sense of your misery, hence therefore let all your Prayers, and tears be, that God would first humble you, that so you may fly by faith to Christ, and come by Christ to God.


IV.  Remember therefore, that tho’ you have spent your time in the vanity of Childhood; sports and mirth, little minding better things, yet that now, when come to this ripeness of Admission to the College, that now God and man expects you should putt away Childish things:  now in the time come, wherein you are to be serious, and to learn sobriety, and wisdom in all your ways which concern God and man.

V.  Remember that these are times and Days of much Light and Knowledge and that therefore you had as good be no Scholar as not excell in Knowledge and Learning. Abhorr therefore one hour of idleness as you would be ashamed of one hour of Drunkenness:  Look that you loose not your precious time by falling in with Idle Compansions, or by growing weary of your Studies, or by Love of any filthy lust; or by discouragement of heart thqat you shall never attain to any exellency of Knowledge, or by thinking too well of your self, that you have gott as much as is needfull for you, when you have gott as much as your Equals in the same year; no verily, the Spirit of God will not communicate much to you in a way of Idleness, but will curse your Soul, while this sin is nourished, which hath spoiled so many hopeful youths in their first blossoming in the College:  And therefore tho’ I would not have you neglect seasons of recreation a little before and after meals (and altho' I would not have you Study late in the night usually, yet look that you rise early and loose not your morning thoughts, when your mind is most fresh, and fitt for Study) but be no wicked example all the Day to any of your Fellows in spending your time Idly:  And do not content yourself to do as much as your Tutor setts you about, but know that you will never excell in Learning unless you do Somewhat else in private Hours, wherein his Care cannot reach you: and do not think that Idling away your time is no great Sin, if so be you think you can hide it from the Eyes of others:  but Consider that God, who always sees you, and observes how you Spend your time, will be provoked for every hour of that precious time you now mispend, which you are like never to find the like to this in the College, all your Life after.

VI.  Remember that in ordering your Studies you make them, as pleasant as may be, and as fruitfull as possibly you are able, that so you may not be weary in the work God setts you about: and for the End remember these Rules, vizt

1.  Single out two or three scholars most Godly, Learned and studious, and whom you can most love, and who love you best, to be helps to you in your Studies; Gett therefore into the acquaintance of some of your Equalls, to spend some time with them often in discoursing and disputing about the things you hear and read and learn; as also grow acquainted with some that are your Superiours, of whom you may often ask questions and from whom you may learn more than by your Equals only.

2.  Mark every mans Disputations and Conferences, and study to gett some Good by every thing:  and if your memory be not very strong, committ every notion this way gained unto Paper as soon as you gett into your Study.

3.  Lett your studies be so ordered as to have variety of Studies before you, that when you are weary of one book, you may take pleasure (through this variety) in another: and for this End read some Histories often, which (they Say) make men wise, as Poets make witty; both which are pleasant things in the midst of more difficult studies.

4.  Lett not your Studies be prosecuted in an immethodicall or Disorderly way; but (for the Generality) keep a fixed order of Studies Suited to your own Genius, and Circumstances of things, which in each year, att least, notwithstanding, there will be occasion of some variation of: Fix your Course, and the season for each kind of Study, and suffer no other matters, or persons needlessly to interrupt you, or take you off therefrom.

5.  Lett difficult studies have the strength and flower of your time and thoughts: and therein suffer no difficulty to pass unresolved, but either by your own labour, or by enquiry of others, or by both, master it before you pass from it....

6.  Come to your Studies with an Appetite, and weary not your body, mind, or Eyes with long poreing on your book, but break off & meditate on what you have read, and then to it again; or (if it be in fitt season) recreate your Self a little, and so to your work afresh; let your recreation be such as may stir the Body chiefly, yet not violent, and whether such or sedentry, let it be never more than may Serve to make your Spirit the more free and lively in your Studies.


9.  Suffer not too much to be spent, and break away in visits (visiting, or being visited) let them be Such as may be a whett to you in your studies, and for your profitt in Learning some way of other, so that you be imparting to others or imparted to from them, or both, in some notion of other, upon all Such occasions.


IX.  Remember now to be watchful against the two great Sins of many Scholars; the first is youthful Lusts, speculative wantoness, and secret filthiness, which God sees in the Dark, and for which God hardens and blinds young mens hearts, his holy Spirit departing from such, unclean Styes. The second is malignancy and secret distaste of Holiness and the Power of Godliness, and the Professors of it, both these sins you will quickly fall into, unto your own perdition, if you be not carefull of your Company, for there are and will be such in every Scholasticall Society for the most part, as will tech you how to be filthy and how to jest, and Scorn at Godliness, and the professors thereof, whose Company I charge you to fly from as from the Devil, and abhor: and that you may be kept from these, read often that Scripture Prov 2. 10. 11. 12. 16.