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Child culture in the home. A book for mothers online

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the movement is most commendable.

In reading, the important point is to select
subjects in which one is interested. It is as-
tonishing how carelessly people select what
they read. They seem to take by chance, and
not in accordance with a definite course marked
by individual taste and interest. They, like
the sailors of Ulysses, take bags of wind for
sacks of treasures. When one reflects how in-
numerable books are, and how very few the
hours for reading, is not the importance of a
restricted, well selected list most manifest?
There is a struggle for existence, and for a sur-
vival of the fittest among books as well as
among animals, and those which have long sur-
vived may be taken to have the right qualifica-
tions. A familiarity with the classic master-
pieces is always a good beginning, and then
one's taste becomes sufficiently true to make
wise choice of the moderns. A large part of
modern reading is devoted to reviews, maga-
zines and newspapers, and though they are
valuable in informing us on topics of current
interest, their use should be limited, and they
should not be permitted to usurp the time and
thought of permanent literature. To speak in
words better than my own : " It is no over-
statement to say that other things being equal,
the man who has the greatest amount of intel-

158 Child Culture

lectual resources is in the least danger from in-
ferior temptations, if for no other reason, be-
cause he has fewer idle moments. The ruin of
most men dates from some vacant hour. Occu-
pation is the armor of the soul, and the train of
idleness is borne up by all the vices. I remem-
ber a satirical poem, in which the devil is
represented as fishing for men, and adapting
his baits to the taste and temperament of his
prey ; but the idler, he said, pleased him most,
because he bit the naked hook. To a young
man away from home, friendless and forlorn in
a great city, the hours of peril are those be-
tween sunset and bedtime, for the moon and
the stars see more of evil in a single hour than
the sun in his whole day's circuit. The poet's
visions of evening are all compact of tender
and soothing images. It brings the wanderer
to his home, the child to its mother's arms, the
ox to his stall, and the weary laborer to his
rest. But to the gentle-hearted youth who is
thrown upon the rock of a pitiless city, and
stands 'homeless amid a thousand homes,' the
approach of evening brings with it an aching
sense of loneliness and desolation, which comes
down/upon the spirit like darkness upon the
earth. In this mood, his best impulses become
a snare to him, and he is led astray because he
is social, affectionate, sympathetic, and warm-
hearted. If there be a young man thus circum-

Language and Literature 159

stanced within the sound of my voice, let me
say to him that books are the friends of the
friendless, and that a library is the home of the
homeless. A taste for reading will always carry
you into the best possible company, and enable
you to converse with men who will instruct you
by their wisdom, and charm you by their wit ;
who will soothe you when fretted, refresh you
when weary, counsel you when perplexed, and
sympathize with you at all times. Evil spirits
in the middle ages were exorcised and driven
away by the bell, book and candle : you want
but two of these agents, the book and the

As remarked before, it is not the quantity of
reading one does that profits most, but the
quality of the matter, and above all, the manner
and the attitude of the reader. When one has
thoroughly assimilated a few of the great clas-
sical masterpieces and desires to extend his ac-
quaintance, he should next read the books
which suit the bent of his own mind, those
which most interest and instruct him, and that
have a tendency to fit him for his work in life.
One's mind only opens to that which interests
one ; if the attention is not absorbed, no mat-
ter how noble are the thoughts and sentiments
one is considering, they mean nothing to the
reader. The next essential to " interest " is
that a book should set one's mind in motion,

160 Child Culture

and the more it makes one think, and the
higher the themes it precipitates on the mind,
the better are its qualifications. But the
highest purport of a book is its practical use-
fulness, the degree with which it inspires one's
conduct, makes one resolute to follow what is
good and noble. These characteristics indicate
whether a book is adapted to an individual,
whether it is in one's special line of reading.

Next to knowing what to read, the important
question is HOW TO READ. " First, before you
peruse a book, know something about the au-
thor." This insures one's interest from the be-
ginning, as one is always more interested in a
person's thoughts, with whom one has some ac-
quaintance, than with a stranger's. A bio-
graphical notice of the writer introduces one to
him ; a knowledge of his life, his character,
and the circumstances amid which the book
was composed enable one to read his works
much more intelligently. Next, "Read the
preface carefully." The reading of the preface
is the truest test of an accomplished reader ;
therein are found the author's motives for
writing the book, and we have a foretaste of
the volume itself; the preface is the appetizer
of the book. Now, " take a comprehensive
survey of the table of contents." If the preface
is the appetizer, the table of contents is the
bill of fare. It is like the map of a journey

Language and Literature 161

showing us through what tracts our way lies,
and to what destinations it will lead us. An-
other important direction is, " Give your whole
attention to whatever you read." The man who
has thoroughly comprehended even one great
book, who has analyzed its characters, scaled its
highest thoughts, felt its deepest pathos, would
be a formidable antagonist to a man of many
books, who, however, had skimmed through
them carelessly and inattentively. The next
point in manner of reading is " Be sure to note
the most valuable passages as you read." All
accomplished readers keep a notebook at hand
and jot down briefly any facts, arguments or
sentences that strike them. Without taking
notes one cannot be an intelligent reader, for
how can one be intelligent without discriminat-
ing, and if one discriminates one distinguishes,
and one cannot distinguish without affixing
some distinctive mark. All great scholars have
been great note takers, and have proved them-
selves in reading as in other things, men of
MAEK. The last two injunctions are, " Write
out in your own language a summary of the
facts you have noticed " and " Apply the re-
sults of your own reading to your everyday
life." Repetition in composition, by using
one's own arrangement and phraseology, fixes
the thought of a book much more securely in
one's mind, and gives one mastery of a subject

162 Child Culture

more completely than any other method. If
one cannot write a summary, one should speak
it; try to communicate a clear and correct ac-
count of it to another. This habit is one of
the reasons why some men appear to have won-
derful memories. Whatever they hear or read
they tell to everyone they meet, and thus it
never leaves their minds. If you will neither
write it nor relate it to another, then at least
digest it by going over it in your mind; that is
indispensable. The last rule, " Apply the re-
sults of your reading to your everyday duties,"
should need no elucidation. While one is read-
ing, one is using the minds of the authors ; they
support the reader's mind, and carry it along,
making it go through all their own processes.
This develops mental energy, but if nothing
else is done, he will remain a mere infant in in-
tellect. He must think for himself; he must
imitate their manner of thinking ; he must ap-
ply to his everyday duties those qualifications
which have made the author so great. After
his intercourse with the great souls of the past
he must prove himself to be clearer in head,
larger in heart, and nobler in action. This is
the great end achieved by books. If they only
make a man a book worm, they are little better
than waste paper.

Some may find these directions too arduous,
and may not wish to bother with reading bio-

Language and Literature 163

graphics and prefaces, making notes and sum-
maries. To these, Pryde says : " You have
just two alternatives between which to choose.
If you are lazy and listless, if you have no de-
sire to become wiser and better if in other
words, you are dolts and simpletons, then you
will continue to doze and dream over whatever
books come to hand, and will remain ignorant
forevermore. But if you are active and
earnest if you wish to succeed in life if you
covet the title of rational beings if you have
the sense to appreciate good advice and the
resolution to carry it out, then you will read
according to a well-defined and rigid method."

Acknowledgment is made to David Pryde's ' ' Highways
of Literature " for the directions in this chapter on " How
to Read."



A CODE of etiquette may refine the manners,
but the " heart of courtesy " which stamps the nat-
ural gentleman comes through instinct. Happy
is the child, and happy the man who has the
gift of a heart so gentle by nature and so con-
siderate, whose manners have such inborn grace,
that little or no training is required to fit him
for harmonious intercourse with his fellow-man.
This type of man is rare ; the average man re-
quires much training before his politeness be-
comes at all instinctive. The earlier in life
attention is bestowed on manners, the less diffi-
culty is there in establishing that unfailing
good breeding and polish which mark the per-
fect gentleman.

Some persons are averse to the acquirement
of fine manners, fearing that it means an adop-
tion of much ceremony, and a sacrifice of sin-
cerity and simplicity. If one is good-natured,
that prevents artifice, if one is truly indul-
gent, no violation of sincerity is necessary.

The absence of a fixed aristocracy or reign-
ing set, the influx of emigrants, the constant
changes of fortune in the families of this coun-

Manners 165

try, and the political changes by which first one
stratum and then another is left on top, render
a fixed standard of politeness difficult to estab-
lish. When social upheavals are less frequent,
the codes which govern social matters will be
more definite and more immutable. The most
reliable codes are those that emanate from peo-
ple of native refinement and taste, and from the
experience of broad and cultivated minds. A
noble and unselfish heart with very few pre-
cepts on the current usages of good society is
as trustworthy a guide as one needs ; the key-
note to good manners as to good morals being
that same Golden Rule " To do to others as we
would that they should do to us." A child who
is not trained to consider the rights and feel-
ings of others, and who has no reverence for
older people, will scarcely develop into a well
mannered man. Through thoughtlessness,
haste or ignorance he may be guilty of rude-
ness, but if his heart is right and his fault is
made known to him, he will not repeat it, for
no gentleman or lady will knowingly offend.
It is the parents' duty to enlighten the child,
and to train him into a proper observance of
his duties to his elders, his companions, and all
with whom he comes in contact.

As manners are the " lesser morals," no one
can be thoroughly well-bred who has not a
basis of good morals. He may have gracious

166 Child Culture

manners and an attractive personality, but the
defect will be revealed at some point of his con-
duct. All etiquette is but the superstructure,
the foundation of which is Christian principle
and Christian virtue, which again have their
root in Divine Love. Many truly conscientious
persons whose surroundings have lacked refine-
ment, and whose education has not redeemed
them from the effects of this lack, are most de-
sirous of knowing the means by which the
frictions of social intercourse may be avoided,
but they scarcely know how to acquire the
necessary knowledge.

There are many excellent works on such sub-
jects, which not only give the correct forms, but
which also instruct in the principles underlying
them, and give reasons for their adoption.
From the frequent lapses and delinquencies of
society, it is evident that a perusal or re -perusal
of some book on etiquette would benefit many.
The ill manners of the average American boy
and girl, man and woman, have been subjects
of severe criticisms by foreigners visiting in
this country. What good manners they do pos-
sess are accompanied by more sincerity than
those of foreigners, whose extremely ceremo-
nious manners alwa} r s savor of insincerity to
persons unaccustomed to them.

We must acknowledge that fine manners as
an art are not much cultivated in this country.

Manners 1 67

Foreign children are certainly the superiors in
this respect of American children. I hold one
of the chief pleasures of a foreign sojourn to
be the witnessing of the respectful, well-bred
children there ; courtesy and self-restraint are
universal, and impertinent replies to parents
and elders are unknown. Everyone who has
lived abroad, and has had opportunity for ob-
serving, will admit the gratification which this
experience affords. How many children in this
country rise when addressed by an older per-
son who is standing, or when one enters a
room ? It is a mark of deference in which a
European child will seldom fail, and it is a fre-
quent sight at a hotel table to see a whole table
of children standing, while an older person also
standing is holding a brief conversation with
the parents, who of course have also risen.
Children are not indulged in those countries as
they are here. They are much more arbitrarily
governed and have not the familiar intercourse
with their parents which is enjoyed by our

This intimate association has its advantages
as well as its disadvantages ; the American
child gives his parents much more of his confi-
dence than does the other, and hence the gain
is perhaps greater than the loss ; but the unhes-
itating obedience and invariable respect that are
practiced abroad cannot but command one's

168 Child Culture

approbation and admiration. The absolute mon-
archy of childhood that exists in many Amer-
ican homes would be considered a fairy tale in
those well disciplined families.

It is not my intention to set forth a code of
etiquette or of the usages which govern good
society ; this has been done so well in various
other publications that it is unnecessary; but I
will refer to a few essential points to which
special attention may profitably be called, both
because of their importance and because failure
in observing them is frequent.

Of these, none is more grievous than the one
just mentioned the irreverence of children
toward their elders, and especially their moth-
ers and fathers. It is the greatest blemish that
exists on the childhood of this country to-day,
and the parents are more responsible for the
condition than are the children, for no parent
is fulfilling his duty to his child, or possesses his
proper quota of self-respect, who permits his
child to contradict him, to ridicule him, or to
treat him with any manner of rudeness. Is it
not a common act for a child to oppose his
opinions to his parents, to refuse to obey, to
retort impertinently, or to walk away while
being addressed? Whence arises this most
deplorable disrespect ? The child is not lacking
in parental affection as one might suppose.
The cause is not so serious as that, but it is

Manners 169

probable, that while parents and children live
in such close and intimate association as they
do in most households, the child regards the
parents more as his equals than as his superiors,
and the parents foster the feeling in both its
worthy and unworthy aspects. Nothing is
more beautiful than a close companionship be-
tween parents and their children. A perfect
example and illustrious model has just been
revealed to us in the life of the late Eugene
Field, who was always a child among children
in his own family, his heart ever overflowing
with love and sympathy for their minutest joys
and sorrows.

But the sweetest companionship is compati-
ble with parental respect, and a determination
and perseverance on the parent's part can, and
will, sustain it. Not one instance of rudeness,
disrespect or flippancy should pass unnoticed,
nor unpunished if persisted in, and this attitude
may be maintained without any diminution of
confidence or of filial affection.

Reverence for the aged and solicitude for
their welfare is an indispensable quality of a
virtuous character. More than any, the feeling
of reverence needs quickening and strengthen-
ing, for lack of reverence is the besetting weak-
ness of the children and youth of the present

As well as the courtesy which the child owes,

170 Child Culture

I would emphasize that which is due the child.
This is too often ignored or regarded lightly.
The child's self respect and the respect he
shows others are strongly influenced by the re-
spect that is shown him. His failures in cour-
tesy and good breeding should not be remarked
upon in the presence of others. If it is desired
that he relinquish his seat in favor of another,
at any time or place, it should be courteously
suggested and not demanded. All of his indi-
vidual rights should be recognized and duly
respected. Such treatment will develop in him
a much more genuine regard and consideration
for others than the method which violates and
disregards all HIS inherent rights. If the
parents desire a friendly good morning from
him, they should greet him with the same.
They should never fail to thank him for atten-
tions, for nothing so surely begets politeness as
politeness. No child can become truly courte-
ous unless he is so in the everyday life of his
home. Good manners cannot be put off and
on as one does one's clothes, without visible
marks of unfamiliarity therewith.

The children whose education has rendered
them superior to their parents in mental attain-
ments should not consider that this advantage
excuses them from the duty of filial reverence,
but their gratitude for the advantages afforded
them should be manifestly increased. It is

Manners 171

through the kindness and self-sacrifice of the
parents that the opportunities were afforded,
and it were worse than ingratitude to requite
them unworthily.

When the parents have guests, the younger
members of the family should pay them the
respect of their attention at least, even if they
do not participate in the conversation, and they
should not continue reading or be otherwise
preoccupied in their presence.

Another violation of good breeding is the at-
titude of many children toward the domestics
of the household. In many families their lot is
a hard one, including not only the frequent in-
justice and unkindness of the mistress, but the
tyranny and arbitrariness of the children.
Many families seem bent on getting all the
service they possibly can with as little requital
as possible ; they never consult the interest or
convenience of their servant ; no feeling of
sympathy or concern for her welfare ever enters
their selfish hearts, but the small wages paid
are supposed to make purchase of all her liberty.
When the heads of households manifest so little
humanity, is it any wonder if the child catches
the spirit of domination and wishes to be party
to the absolutism that reigns? Such a policy
results in no profit to its promoter, for a servant
is not long in recognizing the situation, and her
services become more and more reluctant.

172 Child Culture

A tone of hostility between a family and its
servants is an unfailing indication of vulgarity
and puts the stamp of low breeding on the
members of all homes that indulge in it. Serv-
ants are amenable to civility, and they should
be accorded every consideration and privilege
consistent with the domestic arrangements ;
children should be required to request a serv-
ice, not to command it. Scolding of servants
seldom avails, for the self-respecting ones will
not suffer it, and those who do suffer it are not
affected by it. The faults can be pointed out
without harshness, and correction urged with
civility, and if one asks them why they neg-
lected their duty, their own answer accuses
them better than the mistress can. Children
should not be permitted to make unnecessary
demands on them and cause them to run up
and downstairs for little services that can be
dispensed with, or that they can render them-
selves. Unless the service of a house be very
ample, this consideration should always be
shown. They should be permitted to eat their
meals without interruption if possible, as every-
one knows how unpleasant it is to be constantly
disturbed at one's meals, and it should not be
demanded of them that they remain sitting up
until midnight in view of some possible service
required ; it is very unreasonable to expect
them to work all day and lose sleep half the

Manners 1 73

night too. Defects in principle should be dealt
with more severely than all others, and servants
who are deficient in good morals ought not to
be retained, as they are not only dangerous
themselves, but their influence in the household
is too pernicious to risk.

Even in their plays and games children can
be trained to gentleness and self-restraint with-
out diminution of their pleasure ; rudeness and
boisterousness add nothing to their real enjoy-
ment and are a serious disturbance to others.
They should be taught to hold personal defects
sacred, not only never to allude to them, but to
appear not to observe them ; they should also
disapprove of any infringement of this consid-
eration on the part of their playmates.

There is one slovenly habit to which both
young and old are subject in this country and
of which one sees less abroad : it is the litter-
ing of public places with refuse. Our streets,
parks, steamboats, cars, almost all places to
which the public has access, are rendered filthy
by expectoration and by the remains of food.
Picnic grounds are always left in the most un-
sightly condition, and unless some one in serv-
ice immediately removes the debris, it is very
offensive to the passer-by and to those arriving
on the spot later. It is an unclean practice and
children should be better trained. It is an easy
and simple matter to throw orange peels, egg

174 Child Culture

shells and other refuse into the empty lunch
baskets, and dispose of them properly on reach-
ing home. Everywhere, streets are now being
provided with receptacles for waste matter, and
they should be used for the purpose intended,
and not become additional " wastes " them-
selves. In the home, no signs of luncheon or
refreshment should be visible, but everything
removed promptly, each room containing a
waste basket for the reception of nutshells, etc.

Traveling is one of the greatest tests of good
breeding; space being limited, friction more
easily arises, and conveniences being few, only
a constant regard for the interests of others
prevents trespass. The toilet rooms should al-
ways be left as one would wish to find them ;
when all the seats are required, one should be
very careful not to utilize more than one is en-
titled to. In the matter of ventilation and
open windows, the pleasure of others should be
considered as well as one's own, and great for-
bearance shown to the unavoidable disturbances
of babies and children. Mothers suffer agonies
themselves when their babies cry and they are
conscious that others are being annoyed, but
they cannot always control the annoyance, and
one should be as indulgent as possible.

At no time and place are good manners and
good breeding more manifest or more imperative
than in visiting friends. It requires infinite

Manners 1 75

tact, much good sense and thought, to spend
days and weeks in another's home, and so to
regulate one's time and presence as to make no
superfluous bestowals of either. One essential
is to be agreeable to whatever is proposed for
one's entertainment, and to participate as fully
as possible in the pleasures arranged for one ;
persons who express indifference and distaste
to every suggestion that is made for their en-
joyment are never popular guests, and one visit

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Online LibraryMartha B MosherChild culture in the home. A book for mothers → online text (page 9 of 13)