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May 9, 2000

"Flee Youthful Lusts"

Library Acquires 1815 Pamphlet of Advice to Princeton Students

Princeton, N.J. -- A 185-year-old pamphlet purchased recently by the Princeton University Library suggests that nostalgia for the discipline and values believed to hold sway on college campuses years ago may be misplaced.

"Questions and Counsel for the Students of Nassau-Hall (At Princeton in New-Jersey) Who Hope that a Work of Saving Grace Has Been Wrought Upon Their Hearts," an 11-page pamphlet, begins by asking each student of 1815 to consider if he is, "by nature and by practice, a lost and helpless sinner." It proceeds to dissect the moral and spiritual life of Princeton students through dozens of searching questions.

Urging students to ponder these questions every week for several months, the pamphlet concludes with words of pious counsel: "Mirth and laughter are not always sinful; but let your indulgence in them be clearly innocent, not very frequent, and never of long continuance." Students are advised to "flee youthful lusts" and to "shun every excitement of them."

The appearance of "Questions and Counsel" coincided with a short-lived religious revival at Princeton, in marked contrast to the ungodly behavior of many students immediately before and after 1815.

In January 1814, an "infernal machine" consisting of a hollow log filled with two pounds of gunpowder was set off in Nassau Hall, cracking masonry and shattering glass. In January 1817, a full-scale riot erupted when students angry over the length of their reading assignments sealed the entrances to Nassau Hall and the rooms of tutors and religious students.

Attempts to punish the rioters sparked further chaos in which pistols, clubs, and knives were wielded. The President was struck by a chunk of ice and the pulpit from which he preached was partially destroyed. Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that "Questions and Counsel" should appeal to Princeton students to "walk with God."

The pamphlet's existence was unknown until March, when a rare book dealer brought it to the attention of the Princeton University archivist, who purchased it from a dealer in Connecticut for $200.

The pamphlet is available to read at the Princeton University Archives at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, 65 Olden St. on the Princeton campus, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. The library also is open on Wednesday evenings until 8 p.m.

Pistols, clubs, and knives must be left outside.