A Moving 1832 Letter from the father of American psychiatry, Dr. Benjamin Rush, to his son

 

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Benjamin Rush via (NYPL Digital Collections)

 

I wholeheartedly believe that what we write reflects what we think. Words evolve as we evolve. A letter, as one of the form of written texts, has always been a great source, at least for me, to understand the person behind it and the truth that he or she stands for. Especially, if a letter is being written by parents to their children, a letter is not merely a construction of words, rather it transforms into a package of wisdom that springs from an unselfish parental affection. 

In May 25 1802, Dr. Benjamin Rush (1746-1813) sent a letter for one of his thirteen children named James Rush (1786-1869), lending him his abundant wisdom on writing and what it means to be a successful person. Educated at Princeton and then went on to the University of Edinburg in Scotland to obtain a Medical Degree, Dr. Benjamin Rush was a prominent name in the field of medicine in the 18th century of United States. Besides his extraordinary involvement in the field of medicine, he was the first professor of chemistry in U.S, an ardent abolitionist, an advocate for scientific education for the masses, a fighter for public education, a writer, and the most memorably was he signed the declaration of independence. The letter that he wrote back to his son, James Rush, was one of the exquisite letters that Alan Valentine included in his book titled Fathers to Sons: Advice without Consents (Public Library) that was published in 1963.

Here is the letter:

                                                                                                       Philadelphia, May 25, 1802

 

My Dear Son,

Your letter which we received on Wednesday morning last gave great pleasure to all the family. I examined it critically and do not recollect to have met with but one word improperly spelled–and none improperly written. Continue to cultivate a taste for correctness in everything that comes from your pen. A man’s future has sometimes been made by his letters’ being seen by persons of judgement, and on the contrary many men have lost their characters for good sense and education from the same cause. Never write in a hurry. Even a common note upon the most common business should be written as if it were one day to be read in court or published in a newspaper.

I was much pleased to find that you begin to appreciate time. Recollect, my dear boy, your age and the years you have lost. Improve every moment you can spare from your recitations in reading useful books. Your uncle’s library I presume will always be open to you, where you will find history, poetry, and probably other books suited to your age. The last King of Prussia but one used to say, “A soldier should have no idle time.” The same thing may be said of all schoolboys. Their common plays and amusements I believe instead of relaxing, often enervate their minds and give them a distaste to study. I do not advise you against such exercises as are necessary to health, but simply to avoid sharing in what are commonly called “plays”. The celebrated Mr. Madison, when a student at the Jersey College [The College of New Jersey became Princeton University] never took any part in them. His only relaxation from study consisted in walking and conversation. Such was the character he acquired while at college, that Dr. Witherspoon said of him to Mr. Jefferson (from whom I received the anecdote) that during the whole time he was under his tuition he never knew him to do or say an improper thing.

Remember the profession for which you are destined. Without an extensive and correct education you cannot expect to succeed in it. Do not, dear my son, disappoint my expectations and wishes of bequeathing my patients to an enlightened and philosophical physician. If you can discover a relish for knowledge, your wishes shall be gratified to the utmost of my power in your education after you leave college. You shall visit Europe, if my life be spared, and draw from foreign universities all that you require to enable you to settle with advantage in Philadelphia. Think of these things and act up to them. But above all, preserve a conscience void of offense toward God and man. All true wisdom begins in true religion. Adieu! All the family join in love to you, my dear son, you affectionate father.

                                                                                                                          BENJN: RUSH

 

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My left hand holding the book

 

Suggested readings about Benjamin Rush’s life:

Via (History.com)

Via (PBS)

Via (UpennLibrary)

 

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