Your letter of the 8th instant came to hand by the mail this morning, and you may rest assured, that its perusal gave me most unmingled pleasure ~ I have read it over and over again ~ I have previously written two or three long letters to you, which you must have [received] ere this ~ My feelings are greatly relieved now ~ Your letters to me and your sister had caused me to feel the most anxiety on your account. Not that I feared really for your welfare, but I did fear that in a moment of haste and despondency you might break up your connexion with the Academy, and return home ~ From the tone and spirit of the present letter, these fears are entirely removed, and I feel certain now that you will remain, and if so, I consider the foundation on which your hopes for fame and fortune may securely rest ~ I am much gratified to hear that you have a son of [Dc A] White for a room mate ~ I think I knew his Father well many years ago ~ Give my respects to him & ask him if he is not a grandson of James Shelton, who formerly resided on Round Lick in Smith County ~ If so, his father & mother were both old friends and & acquaintances of mine, & for both of whom I have always entertained the greatest respect ~ You will soon get acquainted to the military etiquette and discipline, so that it will be rather a relaxation, & amusement, than a burden to you ~ It will bring into exercise every muscle of your body, & by that means cause a more complete development, and a vast increase of strength, your chest will become expanded, your growth promoted & a great increase of physical power will result.
In all of your letters hereafter, I trust you will avoid every thought or expression that can be construed into a reflection upon the character of the place, its officers, discipline, etc. and also your associates, the “Cadets.” ~ The reason and propriety of this will at once occur to you ~ You can write privately to me the truth, & all the truth; but in your general correspondence here, let no word or expression escape you, that if all the world were to see it, you would shrink, or have cause to blush on account of it ~ “Old documents are dangerous things,” and there is no knowing what may in time come to pass. ~ Suppose some member of the class, or officer of the academy, were by accident to become possessed of the fact that in some of your letters, you had said things in derogation of their character, as Christians, & moral men, the very least that could come of it, would be, the want of respect from your superiors, & associates, that they might otherwise cheerfully accord you ~ The rule is, “if you can say nothing in their praise, say nothing to their prejudice.” You will find this to be an excellent rule through life ~ It does not follow that a thing may with safety and propriety be told, because it is the truth ~There are many, very many cases, where its very truth is the most cogent reason why a thing should not be told. For instance, where a disclosure would destroy the peace of individuals, the harmony of families, the respect of pupils for their teachers, or of the people for any public institution ~ in all such & many other cases, that will readily occur to you, silence is the true policy, & and should never be broken, except high moral reasons, or public good imperviously demand it ~ You will not understand from all this, that I would have you on any accident stoop to the baseness of falsehood! Heaven forbid the thought, but I wish to impress upon you the vast importance of a prudent reserve in all your correspondence, and never disclose anything unnecessarily, upon any human being, the promulgation of which could cause a pang of remorse, or a feeling of resentment in any one, should it come to their knowledge ~ In all your intercourse with your associates, you should be frank & liberal ~ But remember this, “Keep your own secrets” & never reveal those entrusted to you, as such, by others ~ Be extremely cautious how you make “confidants.” Remember that you are always to a greater, or less, extent, in their power, & you should never lay open your whole heart to any one, until you are sure from a long and intimate acquaintances, that he will hold your honor as sacred as his own life ~ This is a poem by Burns called an “Address to a Young Friend” which contains most excellent counsel ~ I will quote a verse or two from memory. [note: Robert Burns, 1786]
“Conceal yourself as weel’s ye can
Frae critical dissection
But keek through every other man
Wi’ sharpened, sly inspection etc.
As you can read in his works at your leisure ~ In another verse he says,
Aye free, aff-han’ your story tell
When wi’ a bosom crony
But still keep something to yourself
Ye scarcely tell to ony
So much for a kind word of worldly prudence, which it stands every man in hand to observe ~ yet nothing should be done, or left undone, at the expense of truth and honor ~ Nothing but truth should ever be told ~ But it is often very unwise and very improper to tell a thing, simply because it happens to be true ~ My son ponder well of these things ~
You wish my opinion with regard to the way the Sabbath is kept at West Point ~ It pleases me greatly to learn that your conscience is tender on that point as yet, as I told you in one of my former letters, it matters little in what manner or dress you get to church, so that you go with with a chastened spirit & pure & contrite heart ~ So that you worship in spirit and truth ~ The parade is probably necessary, in order to secure the attendance of all the cadets, & to prevent the confusion which would be likely to ensue under any other mode ~ Remember, my son, God is not mocked ~ He knows the heart & the hypocrite in religion or anything else is detestable ~ As for the recklessness shown by any one, or all, after service I conjure(?) you to keep aloof from any thing of the kind ~ In the words of the commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy,” you need not attack, or inform on others, who break these solemn injunctions ~ Let all such things be attended to by those in authority, whose business it properly is ~ As for yourself avoid everything of the kind ~ If your companions laugh & sport at your strictures in this matter you can reply, that you have been educated to honour & keep holy the Sabbath Day, and that your conscience will not permit you to violate the solemn injunctions of the Bible ~ We are all well, & all send their love to you ~ May God prosper & have you in his holy keeping ~
From your Father, E. Wright