THE FIRST VOYAGE
A LETTER ADDRESSED TO A YOUNG FRIEND ABOUT TO EMBARK AS A SAILOR ON HIS FIRST VOYAGE
MY DEAR YOUNG FRIEND-Will you permit one who has long felt a deep interest in your welfare to say a few things to you in the way of friendly counsel, as you are about embarking in your new and arduous enterprise? I write from the heart, and I pray God that he would add his blessing to what I affectionately address to your consideration.
Look ahead. Should you persevere in leading a seafaring life, think where you will find yourself some ten, twenty, or thirty years hence, if your life is spared thus long. Do you mean to rise above the situation of a common sailor? Do you aim to be a thoroughly qualified, respectable, and useful master of a ship? Then remember, that if you ever reach that station, it will be by successive steps of advancement. You will advance, too, in proportion as you acquire the confidence of others; and this confidence will depend upon the character you are every day forming.
The first day that you go on board your vessel, and begin to act and to be observed by those around you, you will begin to establish this character; and every following day, through succeeding months and years, will be adding traits to it, either favorable or unfavorable. Little things, as you may estimate them, but most momentous in their results, will go to make up this character; and they will be recollected too, and constitute answers to future inquiries about you, with a minuteness of which you may now have a very inadequate conception.
"What sort of a lad was young -- his first voyage?" will be asked some years hence, in order to know whether confidence can be placed in you with reference to your advancement to some superior station. "Who were captain and mate of the ship? What do they say of him? What do the steady and respectable sailors that were on board say of him?" Suppose the united reply to be-which, I ardently hope will prove to be the case-"He was one of the steadiest and best-behaved sailors on board the ship; faithful in the discharge of his duties, strictly moral in his conduct and habits; his shipmates say they never heard him utter a profane or vulgar expression, or saw him drink any intoxicating liquor; he was esteemed by the captain and officers, and respected by all. It was thought, too, that he was a pious young man, and his example and influence were worth a great deal in sustaining good order; so that it will be no small advantage in this respect to have him on board any ship in which he may choose to sail."
Such a character will be worth every thing to you, even so far as your temporal welfare is concerned-worth more than thousands of dollars, or the most respectable family connections. For these, however largely you may possess them, can never procure you the confidence of others, if your character is undeserving of it. If you aspire to have that character which will lead others to place confidence in you, remember that you must begin to form it the first day that you go on board, and that you must go on adding to it every day afterwards. If you are so unfortunate as to think that you are so young, and occupy so unimportant a station, that what you say and do for the first few months of your sailor's life will not be noticed and remembered, you will find yourself most sadly mistaken. It will be very particularly noticed and remembered, and have a most important bearing on the whole course of your future life.
Besides, if you do not begin right, you will find it more and more difficult to get right afterwards. If you swear some the first month, habit will lead you to swear more the second month, and the third, and so on; and when will you have the resolution to stop?
Drink ever so little spirits when you first form acquaintance with your shipmates for company's sake, or to avoid being laughed at for being a temperance man, and do you think you will have courage to abstain the second, third, or fourth time you are invited? If it should be soon seen that you can indulge a little in loose and low conversation, or listen to it with satisfaction-that you can pass or enjoy a joke on religious people or religious things-how hard it will be to turn about in opposition to the remarks of those around you, and do these degrading and sinful things no more.
Profane the first Sabbath, and let the irreligious on board see that you belong to their class, and will you be able to resist their enticements or sneers, and keep the second and following Sabbaths as you ought?
Set out from the very beginning with a fixed determination-looking to God in frequent and earnest prayer to help you to keep it-that you will converse and conduct as a Christian, discreet, and respectable young man ought to do; and carry this determination into effect without cant or boasting, in a calm, cheerful, kind, and yet decided manner, bearing a few hard rubs, and perhaps some sarcastic or bitter remarks good-naturedly, and you will be gratified to see how soon all this will cease, and you take your proper stand among those around you, and be respected and well treated even by the most profane and licentious men on board.
But to do this, you need divine strength; you need to be a Christian in heart. This will constitute your only true security; many and new temptations will surround you. You will need moral courage to resist them. Look then to God, in humble and earnest prayer for the influence of his Holy Spirit, to lead you to sincere repentance for sin, and to a cordial faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as your only Savior. Continue to look to Him, in the same way, for those daily supplies of wisdom, grace, and strength that you will peculiarly need.
Read the Bible daily, if it is only a few verses. Read it more fully on the Sabbath, and also such other religious books as you may have. Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy. I know there will be certain duties which, as a sailor, you will have to perform on that day; but notwithstanding this, you will have opportunities and modes of observing the day properly. You can abstain from all conversation and conduct that is inconsistent with its sacredness, and you can let those around you see that you are under the influence of Christian principle in this respect.
Avoid intimacies with the profane, the licentious, and the irreligious, while you treat all in a kind and gentlemanlike manner. Pray for such persons, and try to do them good in all wise and proper ways. Avoid bad and loose books and pictures-if there should be any such on board-as you would avoid poison. Show your disapprobation of them in a marked and decided manner. They have ruined thousands.
If there are any decidedly steady, and, still more, religious sailors on board, seek their acquaintance, and cultivate their friendship. Two or three can greatly strengthen each other in what is right and good. Think of your dear father and mother, of your family and friends. Conduct well for their sakes. Think of your future prospects. Think of God, whose eye will ever be upon you. Think of death; it may overtake you unawares. Think of eternity; how soon you will be there, to partake of its indescribable joys or sorrows. May the Lord bless you, guide, and keep you in the way of duty, of safety, and of peace.
Your sincere friend,
T. H. GALLAUDET.