Letter from Jane Brent to her son Bernard, April 1828

For Bernard Peirce Brent: not to be opened by any other person, and he not to have it until he can read it himself.

Canterbury, April 28th 1828

My dearest boy,

My firstborn, my beloved child, all that the fond expectant heart of mother looks for I hope in you should I not live to see you grow up. I wish to say a few words to guide you a little in the path I wish you to pursue in life. Your constitution is too delicate to admit of your following any very arduous calling. In your infancy you appear to possess a mind strong and capacious - strive my dear to store it with useful knowledge, such as will turn to advantage and enable you to get a livelihood in some genteel profession.

Your father I trust will do all in his power to nurture and direct you but alas. Fortune is imperious - the times change and we change so sadly with the times - therefore use every lesson of instruction as if it were the last that you may have the good fortune to receive. I am aware that it will appear very hard to be always poring over your books - yet in your manhood nothing will give you such real satisfaction as the consciousness of being well educated. It raises you above the vulgar, regulates the passions, and opens the mind to exhaustless pleasures which the ignorant are blind to. An enlightened mind acts as a passport into superior society. Illiterate thoughtless characters have no honour having no fellowship in them.

There is something so melancholy in the idea of addressing you for the last time that it locks up the sense and defeats the purpose. I have much, very much to say, yet when I take up my pen I have not power to express my anxious wishes. My son, make "Truth" your ruling principle. "Honour" follows of course. I consider them synonymous terms. A man of integrity is never wholly ruined, his word is his bond. With principle you will be everything, without it nothing, worse than nothing. Never make a promise till you are certain that you can perform it, never utter a word that will commit you. At the same time observe your actions lest they wear a false appearance, for that is a height of dishonour, which nothing can excuse, draws the deceiver as well as the deceived into disgrace and ruin. Your general deportment, chastity, sobriety and decorum are of more moment in man's life than he is willing to allow. No one will entertain a light, volatile, character, versatility shuts the door of friendship and confidence. "Show me the company and I will tell you the man", is an adage the truth of which should never be forgotten. Every one ought to look to the sort of person he introduces into the bosom of his family, and if that is omitted it is no fit place for you to associate, for those who think lightly of virtue are likely to prove dishonourable: therefore retreat ere you be classed as one of them.

Never have secret friendships, never have clandestine correspondence with any one. Should you get into difficulty fly to your father. Have no concealments, make him your confidant, your friend, your companion. None will ever love as he loves you - though hasty in temper his heart is a compound of goodness. I have known him from a boy and can appreciate his virtues. Nay my child I rather fear his levity than his severity to your faults particularly on the score of religion. There I trust the finger of God will be so strongly prest on your young heart that your mind will be as if it were propelled in the right way.

The established church is the religion I wish you to embrace in attending public worship once on the lord's day is my particular request but I would not have you suppose I think the established church the only true religion. No, I believe the good of every denomination will be happy. God regards the heart not the outward form but read the Bible and form your own opinion and decide for yourself. As a voice coming from the grave I trust that you will duly consider and weigh the importance of every word and sentence contained herein for your good.

If five little years can hold forth anything of future character, I fear you will have much to contend with from the irregularity of your temper - you are too impetuous, too sanguine, but it is in you own power to correct and moderate yourself - by so doing you will ensure peace in your own breast and the love of those around you. You know not how a violent or hasty temper destroys the health, and what begins in mere hastiness, if not subdued, dwindles into downright ill humour. The very best virtues are obscured by it. Few blush at being termed a hasty man, but consider it is said "He that is governed by his passions is little superior to a fool." If you have any pride it will surely take alarm at this remark. It is called temporary madness.

My dear child it is self love and false pride and may be conquered. A dignified mind is above the baseness of passion. It is so unkind to others, and so degrading to oneself. Amiability with courtesy and firmness is best to conciliate friendship in every station and stage of life. Pray therefore to the throne of mercy for firmness and grace to be true to yourself - it will enable you to bear with the foibles of others - "A mild answer turneth away wrath" - again it is said that a spoonful of oil is worth a sea of vinegar. That is to say how superior mildness of expression is to vindictiveness. The wisest is he who first yields the point.

In you own dear Papa you will find a domestic and well informed companion. He possesses much richness of mind, but circumstances are too local to draw him out. You by strict application to your studies may become sufficiently enlightened to enable you to appreciate his talents. It has been said that music softens the soul and unhinges the mind for business. It may be so but I should like you to practise the violin being less fatigueing than the flute. It would also enable you to pass many hours with your sister in mutual satisfaction. Your having the advantage of her in years will of course in education. I trust that you will never forget that she is your sister, and is entitled to the warmest place in your affections. She claims your tenderest care and protection. Support her in all things as a female, and your sister. Bernard I look to you for this and expect my request to be answered. You are now of an age to remember me, I wish to live in your memory not as a grief for long before you can read this I may be in the Realms of bliss. I wish you and your sister to be very strict in your attendance and attention to divine worship and that the Sabbath should always be passed in readings appropriate to the day. Mind your daily prayers - never dare quit your chamber till you have asked the protection of Heaven - never lie down to rest till you have returned thanks and recommended your soul to Him who gave it.

In regard to your hard studies, your father or guardians will of course look to your schooling - but my dearest Bernard again pray apply yourself to the accomplishments of English, Latin, French, and all the useful branches of education. Look at your uncle Mr. John Brent, your cousin John his son. Try dearest boy to excel them in learning as they have surpassed others. To be a scholar is an honour of the highest degree according to the present era.

Your aunt Kingsford has always shown a great partiality towards you and I have no doubt she will continue your friend so long as you prove yourself worthy of her love and esteem, and remember youth should ever treat old age with care and respect, and whenever you are permitted to visit your grandmamas Peirce and Brent listen to their advice for they will ever tell you that which will tend to your good, and now my dearest Bernard I bid a long farewell and when we meet again perhaps it will be never to part. Till then may God bless and protect you is my last wish my dear child

your ever fond and affectionate mother

Jane Brent