A letter from Thomas McElhinney to his son, my great-grandfather
July 30th, 1876
My dear son,
You have of late occupied much of my thoughts. Of my sons you are my first born. My pride, my strength and it is natural that I should desire your welfare and happiness. Allow me then to talk plainly, yet kindly to you. I would not irritate you, but I would help you to escape some of the ills of this world. The old proverb sounds "Thyself to know, make use of every friend and every foe." What your habits are I know not, but this I know that men are known by the company they keep. I know also that habits once formed are hard to break. If a person has formed the habit of smoking, drinking, gambling or indulging any (propensity) passion or desire unlawfully it is very hard to overcome this trouble or evil. The person becomes the slave of his own passions, the worst slavery in the world because ruin is its terminus. If you have any habits it is time for you to assert your manhood and say that you in every respect govern yourself.
One thing is sure "You must govern your passions or they will govern you." The brute, the animal is governed by his desires. Man should be governed by his reason found on the Laws of God as revealed in His Word and in the wisdom of the wise.
In order to know whither your course is leading you, compare your present state with your condition one and two years ago. You ought to improve, not to degenerate. In regard to associates. Books and papers that a man reads shew his character. Books of marvelous stories, papers given to gambling or low literature have a tendency to erase the mind. While books on science, history and useful knowledge have a tendency to improve, elevate and refine the mind. What kind of company do you most desire, what kind of book do you prefer. Answer these questions truthfully and honestly to yourself and govern yourself accordingly. Stop and reflect what the result of a course will be before you pursue it too long.
Much of a man's happiness depends on his wife and in selecting a wife much wisdom and discretion are necessary. Healthy, beauty, form should be looked to and natural disposition and mental ability and nature should not be forgotten. a woman that would make you an excellent wife might be altogether unsuited for some other. If you are round shouldered, your wife should not profess the same deformity. If you cannot sing or have no ear for music, your wife should profess this accomplishment or to sum up if you are deficient in any point your wife should not profess the same deficiency - if you are very fond of dancing and gay company it would hardy be safe to marry a girl of like disposition. If you have little or small veneration for Deity be sure that your wife is not like you in that point.
It is an old proverb that "short-neck people should not marry" (that is together) simply because they are alike, neither should very white people marry some of the dark people.
One thing I can safely advise you not do to that is, to marry a sickly girl or one that has any disease in the family especially (serofula?) or to marry a sulky person. You inherit enough of the latter for one family. Remember there are many girls good enough that are not suitable for you. Happiness or misery in the married life are mutual, one can not be happy and the other miserable. Again too great (coutn??) are to be avoided. It would be folly for a highly cultivated, intellectual, refined, delicate, sensitive young woman to marry with a course sensual man - It would be like coupling a Godsmith maid to a Clydsdale stallion. The offspring would be a monstrosity - unfit for the turf and useless in the cart. what I have written is founded on the highest philosophy and is well worth your careful consideration. I have tried to procure suitable books for you but have been unable. Your inclination has not been after such books but if I could have found the right one I would have given it to you.
A man's happiness, in a measure, is in his own hands. There is another point I must impress upon you, the necessity of a good record. Have it known that you are reliable, steady, sober, trusty, honest and industrious and you will find good employment - few men will buy a horse if they know it has any defects - neither do men wish to employ men that have blemishes on their character.
(??) men appreciate honesty and good qualities in a man. A wise man said, "to be good is to be happy." You must know that god has great respect to the Laws and regulations He has made and that no man may or can violate them or any of them and go unpunished.
The ancients say, "the mill of the gods grinds slow but sure." So rest assured that sooner or later god will visit any and all transgressions of His laws upon the guilty. The Bible says, "(??)hand join in hand yet the wicked shall not go unpunished". I have made blunders and mistakes and must suffer accordingly. I would have you avoid as much suffering as possible the folly that I have done. I know that it is not in (???)(???) walketh to direct his steps. Yet if you are wise you will seek wisdom of God and obey all His Laws. Knowing that His Laws are founded in wisdom of the highest order, and His wisdom is seen in His Laws. That fire will burn and water will drown as well as in the Ten Commandments, and just so in regard to what I have written in the former part of the letter - God created every thing, the flower, the herbs, the beasts and cattle as well as man. And has made Laws for all, there are Laws that relate to the propagation of (???) as well as our own species, but we know very little of the laws of nature and propagation. You may say that it is very hard to find a girl suitable in every way for a wife and harder to get her. Here is how you can do that is by by a pure and virtuous life you may be worthy of such a girl and probably you will find her.
I think much about you every day and at every hour you are again on my mind. My prayer is that God (???) driect you and help you to be a Christian .
One thing I would like for you to do is to read the Old Testament through carefully and see how God cared for those that trusted in Him and punished them that despised His Laws and rejected His counsel.
May the blessing of the Almighty rest upon you and may His goodness lead you to Him. Read carefully the 3rd chapter of the Proverbs of Solomon
Yours only and faithfully
Allow me to illustrate further, your education is poor, not so good and it ought to be because you did not take to books or learning if you marry a girl that dislikes books (history, science, etc.) but loves low literature your children if you have any will probably be dunces. So be wise in selecting a good Christian noble woman for wife.