William Bradford Institute
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Early Settlement of America

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Letter of Thomas Shepard to His Son at Harvard Coolege


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 Lord[']s 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 Christ[']s 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.

II. Remember the End of this turn of your life, vizt the Holy Ministry; that you
may declare the Name of God to the Conversion and salvation of souls; for this
End, your Father has sett you apart with many Tears, and hath give you up unto
God, that he may accept of you; and that he would delight in you.

III. Remember therefore that God looks for and calls for much holiness from you:
I had rather see you buried in your Grave, than grow light, loose, wanton, or
prophane. God's secretts in the holy scriptures, which are left to instruct
Ministers, are never made known to common and prophane Spirits: and therefore be
sure you begin and end every Day wherein you study with Earnest prayer to God,
lamenting after the favour of God; reading some part of the Scriptures daily;
and setting apart some time every Day (tho' but one Quarter of an hour) for
meditation of the things of 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) butbe 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

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.

Mark every man[']s 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.
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.

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.

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; pass not cursorily or heedlessly over such things (rivet the knottyest
place you meet with) 'tis not so much multa Lectio sed sedula et
attenta["frequent perusal, but rather diligence and industry," translation by
Perry Miller and Thomas H. Johnson, ed., The Puritans, II,773] that makes a
scholar, as our Phrase speaks.

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; of (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 sedent[a]ry, let it be
never more than may Serve to make your Spirit the more free and lively in your
Studies.

Such books, as it is proper to read over, if they are very choice and not
overlarge, read them over oftener than once: if it be not your own and that
you are not like to procure it, then collect out of such book what is worthy
to be noted therein: in which Collections take these Directions,

Write not in loose papers, but in a fair Paper-book paged thro'out.
Write faithfully the words of your Author.

Sett down in your Paper-book the name of your Author, with the title of his
book, and the page, where you find the Collection.

Allow a margin to your paper-book no broader than wherein you may write the
letters a, b, c, d, e, f &c. vizt att the beginning of each observable
Collection, if you have more Collections than two or three in a side.

When you have written out such a book being marked with some distinguishing
character (as 1. 2.3 . 4.&c or ... [alpha, beta, gamma, delta] &c) prepare
another of the same dimensions as near as you can, and improve that as the
former, and so onwards: which book may be (as the Merchant[']s Journal is to
his principal Ledger) preparatory for your Common-place book, as your reason
and fancy will easily Suggest how, by Short reference of any subject to be
handled, found in (suppose) the paper-book, ... [beta] page 10. Margine f.
Suppose the subject be ... you need only write in your Common place book ...
vide ...[beta] 10, f. ....

Choose rather to confess your Ignorance in any matter of Learning, that you
may [be] [sic]instructed by your Tutor, or another, as there may be occasion
for it, than to pass from it, and so continue in your Ignorance thereof, or in
any Errour about it; malo te doctum esse quam haberi ["I prefer that you be
educated rather than be so esteemed," translation by Miller and Johnson, op.
cit., II, 773].

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.

Study the art of reducing all you read to practice in your orations &c:
turning and improving elegantly to words and notions, and fancy of your
authour to Sett of quite another subject; a delicate example whereof you have
in your Chrystiados, whereof Ross is the author causing Virgil to Evangelize:
and as in your orations, so in all you do, labour for exactliness, and
acurateness, let not crude, lame, bungling Stuff come out of your Study: and
for that end, see that you neither play nor sleep, nor idle away a moment[']s
time within your Study door, but remember your Study is your work-house only,
and place of prayer.

So frame an[d] order your Studies, that the one may be a furtherance to the
other (the Tongues to the arts and the arts to the Tongues) and endeavour that
your first year[']s Studies may become a Clue to lead you on the more clearly,
strongly, profitably, & chearfully to the Studies of the year[']s following,
making all still usefull, and subservient to Divinity, and so will your
profiting in all be the more Perspicuous and methodicall.

Be sparing in your Diet, as to meat and drink, that so after any repast your
body may be a servant to your mind, and not a Clogg and Burden.
Take pains in, and time for preparing in private for your recitations,
declamations, disputations, and such other exercises as you are called to
attend before your Tutor or others; do not hurry them off indigestly, no not
under pretence of Studying some other matter first: but first (I Say in the
first place) attend those (straiten not your self in time for the thorough
dispatch thereof) and then afterwards you may apply yourself as aforesaid to
your private and more proper Studies; In all which, mind that reading without
meditation will be in a great measure unprofitable, and rawness and
forgetfulness will be the Event: but meditation without reading will be barren
soon; therefore read much that so you may have plenty of matter for meditation
to work upon, and here I would not have you forgett a speech of your precious
Grandfather to a Scholar that complained to him of a bad memory, which did
discourage him from reading much in History, or other books ... So I say to
you read! read! Something will stick in the mind, be diligent and good will
come of it: and that Sentence in Prov[erbs] 14-23. Deserves to be written in
letters of Gold upon your study-table ...[:] yet also know that reading, and
meditation without prayer, will in the End be both blasted by the holy God,
and therefore,

VII. Remember that not only heavenly and spiritual and Supernatural knowledge
descends from God, but also all naturall, and humane learning, and abilities;
and therefore pray much, not only for the one but also for the other from the
Father of Lights, and mercies; and remember that prayer att Christs feet for all
the learning you want, shall fetch you in more in an hour, than possibly you may
gett by all the books, and helps you have otherwise in many years.

VIII. Remember to be Grace (not Childish) and amiable and loving toward all the
Scholars, that you may win their hearts and Honour.

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 men[']s 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[erbs] 2.10.11.12, 16.

X. Remember to intreat God with Tears before you come to hear any Sermon, that
thereby God would powerfully speak to your heart, and make his truth precious to
you: neglect not to write after the preacher always, and write not in loose
sheets but in handsome Paper-books; and be carefull to preserve and peruse the
Same. And upon the Sabbath days make exceeding Conscience of Sanctification, mix
not your other Studies, much less Idleness, or vain and casual discourses with
the Duties of that holy Day; but remember that Command Lev[iticus] 19. 30. Ye
shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my Sanctuary, I am the Lord.

XI. Remember that whensoever you read, hear or conceive of any Divine truth, you
Study to affect your heart with it and the Goodness of it. Take heed of
receiving Truth into your head without the Love of it in your heart, lest God
give you up to strong Delusions to believe lyes, and that in the Conclusion all
your learning shall make you more fitt to decieve [sic] your Self and others.
Take heed lest by seeing things with a form of Knowledge, the Lord do not bind
you by that Knowledge the more, that in seing [sic] you shall not see: If
therefore God revealth any truth to you att any time, be sure you be humbly and
deeply thankfull: and when he hides any truth from you, be sure you lie down,
and loath yourself, and be humble: the first degree of wisdom is to know and
feel your own folly.

2 Tim[othy] 2. 7. Consider what I say and the Lord give thee understanding in
all things.

Prov[erbs] 23. 15. My Son, if thine heart be wise, my heart shall rejoice, even
mine.

Pater tuus

T. SHEPARD



 

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