Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Our Charley : and what to do with him online

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Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1858, by

In the Clerk s Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.















WHEN the blaze of the wood fire flickers
up and down in our snug evening parlor,
there dances upon the wall a little shadow
with a pug nose, a domestic household
shadow a busy shadow a little rest-
less specimen of perpetual motion, and
the owner thereof is " Our Charley?

Now, we should not write about him
and his ways, if he were strictly a peculiar
and individual existence of our own home
circle ; but it is not so. " Our Charley "
exists in a thousand, nay, a million fam
ilies ; he has existed in millions in all
time back ; his name is variously ren
dered in all the tongues of the earth ;
nay, there are a thousand synonymes for
him in English for indisputably "our



"Willie," or "our Harry," or "our Georgie,"
belongs to the same snub-nosed, rosy-
cheeked, restless shadow-maker. So in
France, he is "Leonce," or "Pierre," as
well as "Charle;" in Italy, he is "Car-
lino" or "Francisco;" in Germany, "Max"
or "Wilhelm;" and in China, he is little
" Ling-Fung," with a long silk tail on the
back of his head, but the same household
sprite among them all ; in short, we take
"our Charley" in a generic sense, and we
mean to treat of him as a miniature epit
ome of the grown man enacting in a
shadowy ballet by the fireside all that
men act in earnest in after-life. He is a
looking glass for grown people, in which
they may see how certain things become
them in which they may sometimes
even see streaks and gleamings of some
thing wiser than all the harsh conflict of
life teaches them.

"Our Charley" is generally considered
by the world as an idle little dog, whose
pursuits, being very inconsequent, may


be put off or put by for every and any
body; but the world, as usual, is very
much mistaken. No man is more pressed
with business, and needs more prudence,
energy, tact, and courage to carry out his
schemes, in face of all the opposing cir
cumstances that grown people constantly
throw in his way.

Has he not ships to build and to sail?
and has he not vast engineerings to
make ponds and clocks in every puddle
or brook, where they shall lie at an
chor? Is not his pocket stuffed with
material for sails and cordage ? And
yet, like a man of the world as he is, all
this does not content him, but he must
own railroad stock too. If he lives where
a steam whistle has vibrated, it has awa
kened an unquiet yearning within him,
and some day he harnesses all the chairs
into a train, and makes a locomotive of
your work table and a steam whistle of
himself. He inspects toy-shop windows,
gets up flirtations with benevolent shop-


men ; and when he gets his mouth close
to papa s ear, reveals to him how Mr. So-
and-so has a locomotive that will wind up
and go alone so cheap too can t papa
get it far him? And so papa (all papas
do) goes soberly down and buys it, though
he knows it will be broken in a week.

Then what raptures ! The dear lo
comotive ! the darling black chimney
sleeps under his pillow that he may
feel of it in the night, and be sure
when he first wakes that the joy is not
evaporated. He bores every body to
death with it as artlessly as grown people
do with their hobbies; but at last the
ardor runs out. His darling is found to
have faults. He picks it to pieces to
make it work better ; finds too late that
he can t put it together again ; and so
he casts it aside, and makes a locomotive
out of a broken wheelbarrow and some
barrel staves.

Do you, my brother, or grown-up sister,
ever do any thing like this ? Do your


friendships and loves ever go the course
of our Charley s toy ? First, enthusiasm ;
second, satiety; third, discontent; then
picking to pieces ; then dropping and
losing ! How many idols are in your
box of by-gone playthings? And may
it not be as well to suggest to you,
when you find flaws in your next one,
to inquire before you pick to pieces,
whether you can put together again, or
whether what you call defect is not a part
of its nature ? A tin locomotive won t
draw a string of parlor chairs, by any
possible alteration, but it may be very
pretty for all it was made for. Charley
and you might both learn something
from this.

Charley s business career, as we have
before intimated, has its trials. It is
hard for him to find time for it ; so many
impertinent interruptions. For instance,
there are four hours of school, taken out
of the best part of the day ; four mortal
hours, in which he might make ships, or


build dams, or run railroad cars, he is
obliged to leave all his affairs, often in
very precarious situations, and go through
the useless ceremony of reading and spell
ing. When he comes home, the house
maid has swept his foremast into the fire,
and mamma has put his top-sails into the
rag bag, and all his affairs are in a des
perate situation. Sometimes he gets ter
ribly misanthropic ; all grown people seem
conspiring against him ; he is called away
from his serious avocations so often, and
his attention distracted with such irrele
vant matters, that he is indignant. He
is rushing through the passage in hot
haste, hands full of nails, strings, and
twine, and Mary seizes him and wants to
brush his hair ; he is interrupted in a
burst of enthusiasm, and told to wash his
hands for dinner! or perhaps, a greater
horror than all, company is expected, and
he must put on a clean new suit, just as
he has made all the arrangements for a
ship-launching down by the swamp. This


dressing and washing he regards with un
utterable contempt and disgust ; secretly,
too, he is sceptical about the advantages
of going to school and learning to read ;
he believes, to be sure, when papa and
mamma tell him of unknown future ad
vantages to come when he is a "great
man;" but then, the present he is sure
of; his ships and sloops, his bits of string
and fish-hooks, and old corks and bro
ken railroad-cars, and above all, his new
skates ; these are realities. And he knows
also what Tom White and Bill Smith say ;
and so he walks by sight more than by

Ah, the child is father of the man c .
When he gets older he will have the
great toys of which these are emblems ;
he will believe in what he sees and
touches in house, land, railroad stock
he will believe in these earnestly and
really, and in his eternal manhood nomi
nally and partially. And when his Fa
ther s messengers meet him, and face him


about, and take him off his darling pur
suits, and sweep his big ships into the fire,
and crush his full-grown cars, then the
grown man will complain and murmur,
and wonder as the little man does now.
The Father wants the future, the child
the present, all through life, till death
makes the child a man.

So, though our Charley has his infirmi
ties, he is a little bit of a Christian after
all. Like you, brother, he has his good
hours, when he sits still and calm, and is
told of Jesus ; and his cheeks glow, and
tears come to his eyes; his bosom heaves;
and now he is sure he is going to be
always good; he is never going to be
naughty. He will stand still to have his
hair combed ; he will come the first time
mother speaks ; he will never speak a
cross word to Katy ; he repents of having
tyrannized over grandmamma, and made
poor mamma s head ache ; and is quite
sure that he has now got the victory over
all sin. Like the Israelites by the Red


Sea, he beholds his spiritual enemies dead
on the sea shore. But to-morrow, in one
hour even, what becomes of his good res
olutions ? What becomes of yours on
Monday ?

With all " our Charley s " backslidings,
he may teach us one thing which we have
forgotten. When Jesus w6uld teach his
disciples what faith ytfts, he took a child
and set him in thef midst of them. We
do not presume/mat this child was one of
those excep^kmal ones who have memoirs
a common average child, with
its sprites and tears, its little naughtinesses
ind goodnesses, and its aptness as an ex
ample was not in virtue of an exceptional
but a universal quality. If you want to
study faith, go to school to "your Char
ley." See his faith in you. Does he not
believe that you have boundless wealth,
boundless wisdom, infinite strength ? Is
he not certain of your love to that degree
that he cannot be repelled from you ?
Does he hesitate to question you on any


thing celestial or terrestrial ? Is not your
word enough to outweigh that of the
wisest of the earth ? You might talk him
out of the sight of his eyes, the hearing
of his ears, so boundless is his faith in you.
Even checks and frowns cannot make
him doubt your love ; and though some
times, when you cross him, the naughty
murmuring spirit arises, yet in an hour it
dissolves, and his little soul flows back,
prattling and happy, into your bosom.
Be only to God as he is to you, and the
fireside shadow shall not have been by
your hearth in vain.


YES, that is the question ! The fact is,
there seems to be no place in heaven
above, or earth beneath, that is exactly
safe and suitable, except the bed. While
he is asleep, then our souls have rest ; we
know where he is and what he is about,
and sleep is a gracious state ; but then
he wakes up bright and early, and begins
tooting, pounding, hammering, singing,
meddling, asking questions, and, in short,
overturning the peace of society gener
ally, for about thirteen hours out of the

Every body wants to know what to do
with him every body is quite sure that
he can t stay where they are. The cook
can t have him in the kitchen, w r here he
infests the pantry to get flour to make

2 (17)


paste for his kites, or melts lead in the
new saucepan. If he goes into the wood
shed, he is sure to pull the wood pile down
upon his head. If he be sent up garret,
you think for a while that you have set
tled the problem, till you find what a
boundless field of activity is opened amid
all the packages, boxes, bags, barrels, and
cast-off rubbish there. Old letters, news
papers, trunks of miscellaneous contents,
are all rummaged, and the very reign of
Chaos and old Night is instituted. He sees
endless capabilities in all things, and is
always hammering something, or knock
ing something apart, or sawing or plan
ing, or dragging boxes or barrels in all
directions to build cities, or laying railroad
tracks, till every body s head aches, quite
down to the lower floor, and every body
declares that Charley must be kept out
of the garret.

Then you send Charley to school, and
hope you are fairly rid of him, for a few
hours at least. But he comes home noi-


sier and busier than ever, having learned
of some twenty other Charleys every sep
arate resource for keeping up a commo
tion that the superabundant vitality of
each can originate. He can dance like
Jim Smith ; he has learned to smack his
lips like Joe Brown ; and Will Briggs has
shown him how to mew like a cat ; and
he enters the house with a new war-whoop
learned from Tom Evans. He feels large
and valorous ; he has learned that he is a
boy, and has a general impression that he
is growing immensely strong and know
ing, and despises more than ever the con
ventionalities of parlor-life in fact he
is more than ever an interruption in the
way of decent folks, who want to be

It is true, that if entertaining persons
will devote themselves to him exclusively,
reading and telling stories, he may be
kept in a state of quiescence ; but then
this is discouraging work, for he swallows
a story as a dog does a piece of meat,


and looks at you for another, and another,
without the slightest consideration, so that
this resource is of short duration; and
then the old question comes up, What is
to be done with him ?

But, after all, Charley is not to be
wholly shirked, for he is an institution, a
solemn and awful fad ; and on the an
swer of the question, What is to be done
with him ? depends a future. Many a
hard, morose, and bitter man has corne
from a Charley turned off and neglected
many a parental heartache has come
from a Charley left to run the streets,
that mamma and sisters might play on
the piano, and write letters in peace. It
is easy to get rid of him there are fifty
ways of doing that he is a spirit that
can be promptly laid for a season, but if
not laid aright, will come back by and
by a strong man armed, when you can
not send him off at pleasure.

Mamma and sisters had better pay a
little tax to Charley now, than a terrible


one by and by. There is something sig
nificant in the old English phrase, with
which our Scriptures make us familiar
a MAN child ! A man child ! there you
have the word that should make you
think more than twice before you answer
the question, What shall we do with
Charley ?

For to-day he is at your feet to-day
you can make him laugh, you can make
him cry, you can persuade and coax, and
turn him to your pleasure ; you can make
his eyes fill and his bosom swell with re
citals of good and noble deeds ; in short,
you can mould him if you will take the

But look ahead some years, when that
little voice shall ring in deep bass tones ;
when that small foot shall have a man s
weight and tramp ; when a rough beard
shall cover that little round chin, and all
the strength of manhood fill out that
little form. Then, you would give w r orlds
to have the key to his heart, to be able to


turn and guide him to your will ; but if
you lose that key now he is little, you
may search for it carefully with tears
some other day, and not find it. Old
housekeepers have^ a proverb, that one
hour lost in the morning is never found
all day it has a significance in this case.
One thing is to be noticed about Char
ley, that rude, and busy, and noisy, as he
inclines to be, and irksome as carpet rules
and parlor ways are to him, he is still a
social little creature, and wants to be
where the rest of the household are. A
room ever so well adapted for a play
room cannot charm him at the hour when
the family is in reunion ; he hears the
voices in the parlor, and his play room
seems cold and desolate it may be
warmed by a furnace and lighted with
gas, but it is human light and warmth he
shivers for he longs to take his things
down and play by you ; he yearns to
hear the talk of the family, which he so
imperfectly comprehends, and is inces-


santly promising that of the fifty im
proper things which he is liable to do
in the parlor, he will not commit one if
you will let him stay there.

This instinct of the little one is Na
ture s warning plea God s admonition.
0, how many a mother who has neglect
ed it, because it was irksome to have the
child about, has longed, when her son
was a man. to keep him by her side, and
he would not ! Shut out as a little Arab
constantly told that he is noisy, that
he is awkward and meddlesome, and a
plague in general the boy has at last
found his own company in the streets, in
the highways and hedges where he runs,
till the day comes when the parents want
their son, the sisters their brother ; and
then they are scared at the face he brings
back to them, as he comes all foul and
smutty from the companionship to which
they have doomed him. Depend upon
it, mothers and elder sisters, if it is too
much trouble to keep Charley in your


society, there will be places found for
him, warmed and lighted with no friendly
fires, where he who " finds some mischief
still for idle hands to do," will care for
him if you do not. You may put out a
tree, and it will grow while you sleep ;
but a son you cannot. You must take
trouble for him, either a little now, or a
good deal by and by.

Let him stay with you at least some
portion of every day. Put aside your
book or work to tell him a story, or read
to him from some book. Devise still par
lor plays for him, for he gains nothing if
he be allowed to spoil the comfort of the
whole circle. A pencil and a sheet of
paper, and a few patterns, will often keep
him quiet for an hour by your side ; or
in a corner he may build a block house,
annoying nobody ; and if occasionally he
does disturb you now, balance in your
own mind which is the greatest evil, to
be disturbed by him now, or when he is
a man.


Of all that you can give your Charley,
if you are a good man or woman, your
presence is the best and safest thing. God
never meant him to do without you, any
more than chickens were meant to grow
without being brooded.

Then let him have some place in the
house where it shall be no sin to hammer,,
and pound, and saw, and make all the lit-
ter that his various schemes of business
require. Even if you can ill afford the
room, weigh well which is best, to spare
him that safe asylum, or take the chance
of one which he may find for himself in
the street.

Of all devices for Charley which we
have tried, a few shelves, which he may
dignify with the name of a cabinet, is
one of the best. He picks up shells, and
pebbles, and stones all odds and ends;
nothing comes amiss ; and if you give
him a pair of scissors and a little gum,
there is no end of the labels he will paste
on, and the hours that he may innocently


spend in sorting and arranging. A bottle
of liquid gum is an invaluable resource
for various purposes ; nor must you mind
though he varnish his nose, and fingers,
and clothes, so that he do nothing worse.
A cheap paint box, and some engravings
to color, is another ; and if you will give
him some real paint and putty, to paint
and putty his boats and cars, he is a
made man. All these things make trou
ble to be sure they do and will but
Charley is to make trouble ; that is the
nature of the institution. You are only
to choose between safe and wholesome
trouble and the trouble that comes at
last like a whirlwind.

God bless the little fellow, and send us
all grace to know what to do with him.

The stories following are some of those
with which one mother has beguiled the
twilight hours of one Charley ; they are
given in hopes that other mothers may
find pleasure in reading them to their


"PAPA," said Edward Thompson to his
father, "you don t know what beauti
ful things James Robertson has, of all

66 0, yes," said little Robert, " when we
were there yesterday, he took us up into
a little room that w r as all full of play
things, just like a toy shop."

"He had little guns, and two drums,
and a trumpet, and a fife," said Edward ;
" and one of the drums was a real one,
papa, such as men play on."

" And, papa, he had railroad cars, with
a little railroad for them to go on, and
steam engine, and all," said Robert.

"And a whole company of wooden
soldiers," said Edward.

"And all sorts of blocks to build
houses," said Robert.



"And besides, papa/ said Edward, "he
has a real live pony to ride on ; such a
funny little fellow you never saw ; and
he has such a pretty little riding stick,
and a splendid saddle and bridle."

" Eeally," said their father, " you make
out quite a list of possessions."

" 0, but, papa, we have not told you
half; he has a beautiful flower garden,
and a gardener to cultivate it for him, so
that he don t have to take any trouble
with it, and he can do any thing with the
flowers he chooses."

" 0, and, papa, he has rabbits, and a
beautiful gray squirrel, with a cage fixed
so nicely ; and the squirrel plays so many
droll tricks ; and he has a parrot that can
talk, and laugh, and call his name, and
say a great many funny things."

" Well," said their father, " I suppose
you think that James is a very happy

" 0, yes, indeed, papa ; how can he
help being happy ?" said both boys. u Be-


sides, his mamma, he says, lets him do
very much as he likes about every thing."

66 Indeed ! " said their father ; " and was
he so very happy all day when you were
there?" "

Why, no, not all day," said Edward ;
" but then there was a reason for it for
in the morning we had planned to go
out to the lake to fish, and it rained, and
it made James feel rather cross I sup

"But," said his father, "I should have
thought, by your account, that there were
things enough in the house to have
amused you all."

" But James said he was so used to all
those things that he did not want to play
with them," said Robert ; " he called some
of the prettiest things that he had ugly
old things/ and said he hated the sight
of them."

"Well," said their father, "I suspect, if
the truth was known, James is not so
much to be envied after all. I have been


a week at a time at his father s house,
and I have thought that a more uncom
fortable, unhappy-tempered little fellow I
never saw."

" Well, that is strange," said Edward ;
" I am sure I would be happy if I was in
his place."

" I am afraid you would not," said his
father ; u for I believe it is having so
many things that makes him unhappy."

" Having so many things, papa ! " said
both boys.

" Yes, my sons ; but I will explain this
more to you some other time. However,
this afternoon, as you are going to have
a ride with me. I think I will take you
over to see a little boy who is a very
happy boy, as I think," said their father.

HS & *

" I wonder if this can be the house ? "
said Edward to Kobert, as the carriage
stopped before a very small brown house.

Their father got out, and asked them
to walk in with him. It was .a very little


house, with only two rooms in it ; and in
the one they entered they saw a very
pale, thin little boy, lying on a small, low
bed in front of the door. His face was
all worn away by disease, and his little
hands, which were folded on the outside
of the bed, were so thin one could almost
see through them. He had a few play
things lying by him on the bed, and on a
little stand by him was a cracked brown
mug, in which were some sweet peas, and
larkspurs, and lavender, and bright yel
low marigolds ; beside which lay a well-
worn Bible and hymn book. His mother
was ironing in the next room ; but when
she saw the boys and their father, she
came forward to receive them.

"Well, my little fellow," said Mr. Thomp
son, " how do you do to-day ?"

" 0, pretty comfortable," he said.

" I have brought my boys to see you,"
said Mr. Thompson.

The sick boy smiled, and reached out
one of his thin little hands to welcome


them. Edward and Robert took his hand,
and then turned and looked anxiously at
their father.

66 Papa, how long has he been so sick ?"
asked Robert.

" More than a year, young gentlemen,"
said his mother; "it s a year since he
has been able to sit up ; and it s four
months since he has been able to be
turned at all in bed ; he has to lie all the
time, just as you see, on his back."

" 0, what a long, long time ! " said Ed
ward ; " why can t you turn him, and let
him lie on his side ? "

" Because it hurts him to lie on either

" What is the matter with him ?" asked

"Why, the doctor says it s a complaint
of the bone ; it began more than two
years ago, down in his foot, and they had
to cut the foot off, in hopes that that
would stop it ; but it didn t ; and then
they cut off the leg above the knee, and


that didn t stop it ; and it s creeping up,
up, up, and finally it will be the death of
him. He suffers dreadfully at nights ;
sometimes no sleep at all for two or three

u father, how dreadful ! " said Edward,
pressing close to his father.

"Papa," said Robert, looking up and
whispering, " I thought we were going to

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Online LibraryHarriet Beecher StoweOur Charley : and what to do with him → online text (page 1 of 5)