Dick Harris; or the Boy-Man by Unknown

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?"

"No."

"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.

[Illustration: "<i>Became the associate of fast young men and learned to drink</i>."]

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!

[Illustration: "<i>The drunken creature was Dick Harris</i>."]

Many who smoke and still appear strong, have nevertheless undermined their constitution, and when an unusual strain comes upon it there is a collapse.

"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."