Dick Harris; or the Boy-Man by
Dick Harris was called a clever boy, and no one believed this more
firmly than he. He was only fourteen years of age, and yet he dearly
loved to be thought a man.
As he was about to leave school, his friends often asked him what he
intended to be. Dick could not tell; only, that it must be something
great. Now while Dick had learned some good thing in school, he had also
learned many evil habits—among them the practice of smoking.
Dick's father smoked. He saw men smoking in the streets, and so he
thought it would be manly to smoke. Along with some of his schoolmates,
he used to hide himself and take his turn of the one pipe or cigar which
they had among them. As they were afraid of being found out, they hid
the pipe when any one came near.
His father, who although he smoked himself, forbade Dick doing so, asked
him one day why his clothes smelled so of tobacco smoke.
"Some of my schoolmates smoke, father."
"But do you smoke?"
"Take care you don't then; it's all very well for men, but I won't have
any of my children smoking."
Dick went away, as the Bible says, "with a lie in his right hand."
And yet he wanted to be a man. Now look at that, my lads. What is it
that makes a man—I mean a true man? There are many things. The Bible
says that the glory of young men is their strength—strength of body,
and strength of mind.
Would Dick get this kind of glory by smoking? He certainly would not
strengthen his body, for it has been proved again and again that boys
who smoke weaken their bodies.
Tobacco is a poison—slower perhaps than strong drink, but quite as
sure; and although it may not kill you outright, because the quantity
taken is not large enough, yet it pollutes the blood, injures the brain
and stomach, and paralyzes many of the healthy functions of the body.
The result is stunted growth and general weakness. A boy who smokes much
never can have the glory of bodily strength.
Dick found this out for himself, to his bitter regret. And besides this,
do you think that his conduct showed strength of mind? He began the
practice of smoking, not because he believed it to be right, but because
men smoked. He was only a boy, yet he wished to appear a man—that
is, to appear what he was not.
What could be more weak than for a boy to have no reason for doing a
thing than that men do it? But it led to something worse. He was
smoking on the sly, and to conceal it he became a liar. He lied in the
school by his conduct, he lied at home by his words.
We could have respected him, although we pitied him, had he smoked
openly and taken the consequences; but who can respect a coward? He is
not worthy of the name of man. Dick continued to smoke after he left
school, and was apprenticed in a large warehouse.
Here again the old desire to be like men influenced him. They had
cigars, he must have one; they smoked, he must do so. This conduct had
its invariable effects. He became the associate of "fast" young men—got
into debt—learned to drink—stayed out late at night—and before his
apprenticeship had ended, was ruined in health; and but for the
indulgence of his employers would have been discharged in disgrace. Was
that acting the part of a man?
This happened many years ago. Last week amidst a crowd who surrounded a
polling booth, there stood a man about forty years of age—he looked
twenty years older. On his head was a battered hat; he wore a seedy,
black coat; both his hands were in his pockets, and in his mouth the
stump of a cigar which had been half-smoked by another man; his face was
bloated, his eyes bleared and languid. Even the vulgar crowd looked at
him with contempt.
I looked into his face thinking there was in it a resemblance to one I
had known. Slowly and painfully came the sad truth, that the drunken
creature was Dick Harris; he had become a man but he was a lost man.
It has often been said, "How great a matter a little fire kindleth." The
spark which kindled a blaze among Dick's evil passions, was the spark
which lit the tobacco pipe at school. Bad habits are easily acquired,
but they are hard to get rid of. See what smoking had done for Dick. It
led him to drink, and the two habits have left him a wreck.
But you say to me, "There are many thousands who smoke, and yet are
strong men." It is so. But in almost all cases these strong smokers did
not begin the habit while they were boys; if they had done so, the
likelihood is, they never would have become strong men. Besides, how
much stronger they might have been if they had never smoked!
Many who smoke and still appear strong, have nevertheless undermined
their constitution, and when an unusual strain comes upon it there is a
"But again," you say, "all who smoke do not learn to drink, and so lose
true manhood." That may be; and yet there is a significant fact that a
confirmed drunkard who does not smoke can scarcely be found. It has
recently been shown that the great majority of those who break their
temperance pledge are smokers.
Smoking and drinking are branches of the same deadly tree whose leaves
curse the nation.
And now, my lads, "Quit you like men, be strong." The next time any one
says to you, "Have a cigar," say "No!"
If he says it is manly to smoke, say "No; it is manly to exercise
self-control; to act from principle; to have cleanly habits; to be
unselfish; to pay one's debts; to be sober; and to have the approval of
one's conscience. Now, I might lose all these elements of manhood if I
learned to smoke."