Book Title: The Real Home
The Family Library
Chapter 17
by: Mrs. Vesta J. Farnsworth

One writer has said, “There is no ship like a book to take us worlds away.” Certainly no one who enjoys good reading has cause for loneliness or lack of occupation.

Mothers and fathers who feel that they have not the gift of telling stories to their children, have still the opportunity to read to them, thus combining entertainment with instruction. …

But whether all this reading is beneficial may well be questioned. What we read is our mental food. It weakens or strengthens character. Like food for the body, it needs digestion. One may gormandize mentally as well as physically. To read that which simply entertains but does not profit, weakens the mind.

The books Abraham Lincoln read when a boy were the Bible, much of which he could repeat, Pilgrim’s Progress, Aesop’s Fables, Weem’s Life of Washington, and a Life of Henry Clay. These books were not read once only, and then tossed aside; they were studiously read again and again. Such books did much in adding simplicity, earnestness, and kindness to the character of a man whom the world delights to honor. It will no be hard for those who have seen the effects of modern reading on children to believe that Lincoln’s poverty in books was the wealth of his life. Now, because there is a multitude of “good books,” there is danger that the best shall be neglected.

THE BEST BOOK

The Bible towers above all other books in point of excellence. It is emphatically the book above all others for childhood and youth.

Thomas Jefferson declared:
 “I have said and always will say that the studious perusal of the Sacred Volume will make better citizens, better fathers, and better husbands.”

Daniel Webster said:
 “If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering and to prosper; but if we and our posterity neglect its instructions and authority, no man can tell how suddenly a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity. The Bible is the book of all others for lawyers as well as divines, and I pity the man who cannot find in it a rich supply of thought and rule of conduct.” …

Children are so much more easily impressed with spiritual things than we realize! J. Wilbur Chapman says this:
 “The Bible has a peculiar way of fastening itself to one’s memory, and then just at the right moment of stress and strain, it asserts itself; and many a scripture learned in childhood never loses its force throughout the longest of life’s journeys.”

As literature, the Bible has no equal. Its stories are so true, so real, so thrilling, so inspiring!
 “As a means of intellectual training, the Bible is more effective than any other book, or all other books combined….The mind thus brought in contact with the thoughts of the Infinite cannot but expand and strengthen.” Education p. 124.

 “On of the chief causes of mental insufficiency and moral weakness is the lack of concentration for worthy ends. We pride ourselves on the wide distribution of literature; but the multiplication of books, even books that in themselves are not harmful, may be a positive evil. With the immense tide of printed matter constantly pouring from the press, old and young form the habit of reading hastily and superficially, and the mind loses its power of connected and vigorous thought.” Id., p. 189.

It is the privilege of parents to read and study the Bible with their children. If father and mother are interested in it, the children will be. High ideals will be placed before them. They will love its stories even when these are repeated over and over again. The story of creation, of the call of Abraham, of Isaac, of the boy Joseph, of little Moses in his ark, of the Passover, of Samuel, David, Daniel, the baby Jesus; how the Saviour blessed the children, the new heaven and earth, - all are so wonderful, so appealing to the child as yet unspoiled! There are action, real persons, things said and done; and the child is fortunate who daily listens to the parables and precepts, the history and revelation, of this inspired Book.

When writing of education among the Scotch in his childhood, one writer describes the method used:
 “Having learned our letters and some small syllables, we were at once passed into the book of Proverbs. In olden time, this was the universal custom in all the common school in Scotland – a custom that should never have been abandoned. That book is without a rival for beginners, containing quite a repertory of monosyllables, and pure Saxon-English undefiled….
 “While learning the art of reading by the book of Proverbs, we had our minds stored with the highest moral truths; and by sage advice applicable to all ages and departments of life, the mind, while it was supple, received a bent in a direction largely favorable to future well-doing and success. The patience, prudence, forethought, and economy which used to characterize Scotchmen – giving occasion to the saying, “a canny Scot” – by which they were able so often to rise in the world and distance competitors in the race of life, were, to a large extent, due to their being thus ingrained in youth and childhood with the practical wisdom enshrined in the book of Proverbs.” John Muir.

A teacher says: “Though I’ve taught English for many years, I’ve never learned of so sure and so good a way of enriching a child’s vocabulary as by making the Bible a part of his mental life. Nothing in our Anglo-Saxon literature is so beautiful and so virile.”

But never should Bible reading and study be made a task or a punishment, but rather a privilege. The child who is told that if he is naughty he must sit down and learn his Sabbath school lesson or read a whole chapter, regards Bible study and reading as a punishment. To be compelled to read to keep him from doing something he desires, will not impress him that there is anything about such reading that is pleasing or profitable.

Professor Vernon P. Squires, of the University of North Dakota, conducted a quiz on the Bible in his English classes, the result of which is given in the article which follows:
 “Almost daily we come, in our reading, upon allusions to the Scriptures, a clear understanding of which is absolutely indispensable for the appreciation of the passage in hand. But far too often, to the majority of my students, the reference is meaningless….

 “So forcibly has this general ignorance of the Scriptures thrust itself upon me that I recently experimented with a group of freshmen. I asked them to answer a few simple questions in regard to the Bible. It was optional with them whether or not they should do so; but one hundred and thirty-nine attempted the examination, and I have every reason to believe that the took the matter seriously, and answered the questions to the best of their ability. I would remind my readers that these young people were all high school graduates, who had completed fifteen year-units of high school work. Most of them come from good homes, and they certainly represent a grade of culture considerably above the average of the community.

 “The questions were as follows:

  1. What is the Pentateuch?
  2. Name ten books in the Old Testament.
  3. Name ten books in the New Testament.
  4. Into what groups or divisions is the Old Testament divided?
  5. Who was (1) “the apostle to the gentiles”? (2) “the beloved disciple”? (3) “the wisest of men”? (4) “the strongest man”? (5) “the first murderer”?
  6. What idea is suggested to your mind by each of the following nouns? (1) Apollos, (2) Cana, (3) Carmel, (4) Esther, (5) Hezekiah, (6) Ishmaelites, (7) Jephthah, (8) Jezebel, (9) Saul, (10) Sinai
  7. Briefly explain the allusion in each of the following passages:
  8. “When Lazarus left his charnel cave.” – Tennyson.
  9. “And so the Word had breath, and wrought with human hands the creed of creeds.” – Tennyson.
  10. “A hungry impostor practicing for a mess of pottage.” – Carlyle.
  11. “The two St. Johns are the great instances of the angelic life.” – Newman.
  12. “The man of Uz.” – Browning.
  13. “You stand stiff as Lot’s wife.” – Tennyson.
  14. “A clamor grew as of a new-world babel.” – Tennyson.
  15. “Jonah’s gourd.” – Tennyson
  16. “Except they meant to bathe in reeking wounds, or memorize another Golgotha.” – Shakespeare.
  17. Where did you learn what you know of the Bible – at home, at school, church, Sunday school, or elsewhere?

“If we regard seventy per cent as the “passing mark,” twelve passed this test. Ninety-one received less than fifty percent; seventy-one received less than forty per cent. The average standing of the entire group was about forty per cent.

“An analysis of the answers to some of the questions is rather interesting. Ten could not name a book in the Old Testament, and only sixty-eight answered the question properly. This is, however, a too liberal allowance, as it is based on the acceptance of full value of such spelling as “Deuteronmy,” “Deuteromoty,” “Deuterominy,” “Deuderominy,” “Goshua,” “Salms,” “Nehiamiah,” “Joob,” “Jobe,” “Jeob.” Fourteen named “Hezekiah” as one of the books; five named “Solomon”; two, the “Book of Moses.” Among original ideas was the mentioning as Old Testament books “Paul,” “Timothy,” “Titus,” “I and II Romans,” “Phenecians,” “Babylonians,” “Gentiles,” “Philistines,” and “Xerxes.”

“The answers in regard to the New Testament were still more unsatisfactory. Twelve were unable to mention a single book; only forty-six mentioned ten, as requested. Five put Samuel in the New Testament; three, the Psalms; three, Ruth; and two, Esther. One mentioned “I and II Judges.” Seventeen mentioned “Paul,” or “St. Paul,” or “Paul’s.” Three suggested “Simon”; two, “Jacob.” There were also mentions of “Thelesians,” “Philipi,” “Thomas,” “Lazarus,” and “Samson Agonistes.”

“The answers to question four were too varied and vague to be reported here. Question five brought several surprises. I will mention two. The expression, “The apostle to the gentiles,” is so common that I at first hesitated to include it. It seemed to me that every one would answer it correctly. To my surprise, twenty-seven made no attempt at an answer. Seventy-two replied correctly, twelve voting for John, twelve for Jesus, twelve for Abraham, five for Peter, John the Baptist, Judas, Moses, Jacob and Methuselah. As to “the beloved disciple,” sixty-eight were right; twenty made no attempt; thirty-seven (strange to say) guessed Peter, while others named Paul, James, Jesus, Abraham, and David.

“In question six I confess to have intentionally included one or more pitfalls. For instance, I expected some would be confused by the name “Apollos.” The results, however, exceeded all expectations. Seventy-four (over one half) made no attempt at an answer. Eleven others answered to vaguely as to be unintelligible. Twenty-six declared it to be the name of a Greek (or heathen) god. Only seven gave answers which were clearly correct. Four though it meant a mountain; three, a town. Others answered “a king,” “a giant,” “an apostle of the Greek Church,” “another name of Paul.” In regard to Cana, too, I expected some confusion. The results were as follows: No attempt, forty-nine; altogether vague, twenty; “the Promised Land,” fairly correct, twenty-eight. Other answers were “a mountain,” “a desert,” “a land in Egypt,” “the first murderer,” “a battle fought in Italy.”

“Hezekiah” was included in the list with the knowledge that for some reason or other a good many people have the idea that there is a book in the Old Testament bearing this name. Eighty in the class made no attempt at an answer; fourteen got it right. Other answers were “a mountain,” “an idolater,” “a priest,” “a woman,” while one said that to him it suggested “the handwriting on the wall.”

“Jezebel” is a name used so frequently to suggest a virago, or wicked woman, that I really expected a large percentage of correct replies. To my surprise, one hundred and one left the answer blank; thirty answered it correctly; five thought it the name of a man. One wrote, “A prophetess in the temple”; and one, by a peculiar confusion of ideas, replied, “A wicked woman who demanded the head of Paul.”

“But it is hardly necessary to go into further details. I will add a few words about question eight. To this, only sixteen failed to reply. Ninety-one said they had attended Sunday school Sixty-eight mentioned the home as one of their sources of Biblical knowledge. It was noticeable that with a single exception, every one who passed emphasized the home. The writer of the best paper said, “Especially at home”; the writer of the next best paper, “Mostly at home and by personal study.” This emphasis on the home is, I believe, suggestive. Biblical knowledge cannot be taught by ordinary Sunday school methods any more than other sorts of knowledge could be so taught. The only means to exact information is study – hard, painstaking study. Nor can Biblical study be carried on in school. There would be trouble at once, were it attempted. But the home remains – the home, which, after all, is the logical place for religious instruction. – Journal of Education.

LOST OPPORTUNITIES

A father or mother who can read aloud well – read so the children see and feel what is read – possesses a wonderful power for entertainment and instruction. Most children love to listen to reading. They prefer it to reading themselves. They can then more easily ask questions about what is not understood, the meaning of hard words may be explained, the lesson enforced. …

A library is indispensable to the family where that which is best is prized. Besides the Bible, there are many books one can read with profit. The furnishings of the home may be plain; but if those dwelling there have the companionship of good books, there will not be a dull moment. Culture and contentment will be present, for the mind associates with the best of earth. If parents have not had opportunities for education, they can do much to make up this lack by wise reading.

Not only will children be interested in what interests the parents, but in that which is daily talked about at the table and the fireside. It will be useless to bring good books into the home and expect the children to enjoy reading them by themselves when father and mother take no interest in reading. Where parents lead, the children will follow.

One woman was lamenting that her boy was a trouble instead of a comfort to her. When the reason was asked, she said:

“It’s his reading mostly, I think. I don’t know where he acquired a taste for those vicious novels. I’ve tried to be careful with him. I’ve forbidden any literature of that sort to be brought into the house at all. Why, when he was old enough to read, I even stopped the subscriptions of two of my household journals, because there were so many cheap stories in them. I was also careful that he did not get any of that kind of reading form the neighbors’ children. Really, I do not see what else I could have done. Now he has developed a craze for cheap novels. Where in the world he gets them, I don’t know. He is filled with all sorts of foolish notions. He is getting beyond my reach; I don’t know what to do with him.”

When this mother was asked if she had supplied her boy with good reading, she replied:

“No, honestly, I did not. I well remember when he was just a wee boy, how, when tired of play, he would come pulling on my skirts and beg for a story. ‘Please, mamma, tell me a story! I’m tired of playing all the time. Oh, please, mamma!’ he would implore. But I would say: ‘Now, sonny, mamma is busy. When she gets time, she will read you a story.’ He would go away discouraged, for he knew I never had much time. I was usually too busy.

“Soon he didn’t ask me any more. He learned to read for himself, and would entertain himself with his books. He read fairy stories, but I forbade him to read them. But how he did love stories! No, I didn’t trouble about finding things for him to read. Of course, there area good books in our library, but not many of them would appeal to a boy.”

This mother failed, as others fail, in not directing her boy’s reading. Had she told him the stories he craved, and, as he grew older, read that which was suited to his age, and talked with him about what was read, she would have saved the boy, and also saved herself many tears and regrets. But she was “usually too busy.”

One writer declares: “One may become a veritable slave to the fiction habit, as much a slave as the drunkard or the opium fiend. And the taste, once acquired, is broken only by the most determined effort, and even then one cannot always be sure that it is conquered; for it clings to one like the leprosy. Beware of allowing this pernicious and mind-destroying habit to fasten itself upon you.”

Many lose their health and become invalids because of pernicious reading. Some are scarcely sane, because their novel reading creates nervousness; it wearies the brain, and the whole body suffers. Mental dyspeptics are common; and by reading fiction, they unfit themselves for the practical duties of life. They seem dazed, are easily irritated, and delight in nothing so much as daydreaming, fancying themselves heroes or heroines, living an exciting, unreal life. The mind becomes like a babbling brook, the water running to waste over its rocky channel.

It is well known that boys and young men are incited to commit robbery, to murder, and to give themselves up to the indulgence of evil, by reading stories of crime. The basest passions are aroused and indulged because of reading love stories and sentimental rottenness.

THE DEMAND FOR FICTION

Publishers have learned that to print stories spells financial success. The people demand them, and with few exceptions, the magazines that ignore the popular taste are not “good sellers.” A little saving salt is found in some magazines, in the form of well-written articles on science, travel, or national affairs; but this part  is passed over by the story fiend, who buries his face in the fascinating tales which fill the other pages. Dealers supply that which the people demand, that which brings them most money. Lies are welcomed as truth, and truth is treated as a lie. Such literature loads tables and shelves in the most elegant house. It is found in families called Christian; it is everywhere.

HOW SHALL WE TEST OUR READING?

Let us insist that our books and periodicals, when read, shall leave us stronger, purer, wiser, and better than before we read them. Some one has said: “character in books is needed as much as in men. Let us insist that the books that we admit into our lives shall first of all be pure and clean.”

The acid test which should always be applied to our reading is, Will this book or magazine take away my relish for reading the Bible? Can I ask God’s blessing upon me while reading it? Would I feel ashamed to answer if Christ should stand before me and ask, What are you reading?

TESTIMONY OF A DIME NOVEL WRITER

In the Ladies’ Home Journal, an article appeared, written by the author of one hundred twenty-five “dime novels,” He says the publishers found the demand for “thrillers” was decreasing, so they planned the writing and publishing of what they termed “a good series,” which was a rehash of the dime novel, with some of the incentives to crime omitted, and showing that punishment overtook the wrongdoer.

The writer concludes his article with this statement: “I have become disgusted with the whole business. Never will I write another ‘factory’ story.” Yet these books were advertised as “fit for any home.”

KNOW WHAT YOUR CHILDREN READ

Parents and teachers should be alarmed. If they themselves are addicted to the story-reading habit, let them first take themselves in hand and gain the victory. It will not be an easy task, as those can testify who have undertaken it. But there is a mighty Helper who has never failed to win in every conflict with evil. If the mental inebriate will flee to Him for strength, if he or she will determine to overcome, the battle will be won.

But one must not venture on forbidden ground. The evil is so fascinating, so bewitching, so overpowering, there must be no dallying with temptation. Of all ills, mind sickness is most difficult to cure; and those who feed their minds on trash are sick. But there is healing if they will accept it.

The only safe course is to allow in the home no books or periodicals that have not been carefully tested. Provide the best. Subscribe for periodicals that are informing. Let them be addressed to the children, so they will feel that such papers and books are their own property. Read to them and with them, and so prevent the formation of the story habit. Come, let us read with our children.

In one home provided with popular literature, the son, a lad of ten or twelve, read in the book of Acts about the Ephesians who were converted when they heard Paul preach. These Ephesians had in their possession books on “curious arts” – books on divination, containing rules and forms for communication with evil spirits. They decided to burn their books in a public bonfire; and when the value was computed, it was found to be between nine and ten thousand dollars.

After the boy had read this story in the Bible, he concluded that some of his books were unfit for a Christian lad to read; so, forthwith, he gathered them together, took them to the back yard, and burned them. If this example were followed by others, a blessing would result. If parents find books or periodicals that will injure their children, they had better burn them and disinfect their homes.

Herbert D. Ward, whose father edited the Independent, and who is himself a scholar of rare attainments, relates how his father saved him from reading sensational literature.

In his home, there was a large upholstered chair; and where the back and the seat met, there was a deep place where articles could easily be hidden. In this chair the father sat while conducting family worship. In the family were two aunts and a grandmother.

Mr. Ward says:
 “On one occasion, when my father had finished his prayer, he arose to his feet with a most lurid sheet in his hand. It was a boys’ cheap weekly….Spreading this interloper out in his hand so that its vulgar indecencies could easily be seen, he glared at his younger sister.
 “‘Hetta, I am surprised at your hiding such a thing as this!’
 “‘But, William,’ she most indignantly replied, ‘I never saw it before.’
 “‘Turning to the older sister, he said, ‘Susan, confess!’
 “‘I wouldn’t touch it with the tongs.’
 “In the meanwhile, the son was squirming in his chair. Then the editor turned to his aged stepmother.…
 “‘Mother!’ His voice was raised accusingly. ‘Then it is you who has brought this literature into my house.’
 “The old lady had little imagination and no sense of humor. With great dignity she arose from her chair.
 “‘William! How dare you insult your mother in this fashion?’ She swept from the room.
 “Then my father’s gaze turned slowly to me. He crumpled the offending sheets in his hands and threw them into the open fire. His face relaxed, and lit with a proud smile.
 “‘I don’t have to ask you!’ he said, ‘for surely my son could not read anything so vile as this.’
 “That was the last vulgar periodical I bought or read. For months, my ears rang with that gentle, cutting rebuke. That episode did as much to stimulate me to good reading as the example of the ever-studious family itself.”

Let there be bright, cheerful literature in the home. Boys like magazines and books which deal with mechanical devices and electricity and travel and exploration and wholesome adventure.

One lad who used his spare time in making an electric fan and a toy automobile, was asked where he obtained his knowledge.

“I read a book I found in the public library,” he replied.

“Have you read more than one?”

“Yes, quite a number. There were forty or more books in the library on electricity, but I read only about half of them.” …

Almost all books and papers are now illustrated. Pictures make a deeper impression than words on the mind of a child. If only the best of papers and books are allowed, we have little to fear from the pictures in them. But those in which scenes of crime and violence are represented will tend to send children within prison walls in later years.

One writer has said: “Pictures of fashions also distract the mind from better things and turn many a foolish head. They need be consulted only often enough to insure being neatly, tastefully dressed.”

The highly colored “funny page” of the newspaper is one of absorbing interest to most children. Edward Bok, editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal, wrote an excellent article on this subject, showing that such pictures teach disrespect for parents, teachers, friends, and for God, portraying all sorts of tricks which we would not wish our children to copy.

THE ART OF CONVERSING

What is more attractive than the family seated at the table at mealtime, each eager to add to the pleasure, all talking, listening, smiling, all united in fellowship with one another? Father has reserved some experience or anecdote, and tells it for the entertainment of all.

Mother also takes part. One woman says: “I try to have some subject for conversation, just as I try to have good food. If there is an entertaining story, a kind-tempered joke, some success or pleasure any one has to relate, I try to have to kept for mealtime. A good laugh, cheerful talk, pleasant, kindly manners, help a meal wonderfully. I will not permit distressing ills to be discussed, nor will I have grumbling or disputing. We seldom talk of our work. We take time for our meals, and make that one of the happiest hours of the day. Each meal is a sort of festival, no matter how plain it may be. That is the time we get acquainted with one another.”

This woman was complimented on the neat appearance of her husband and children at the table. She replied that much of health and family affection depends on the way the meals are eaten. Her husband and sons did not come to the table until they had carefully washed and combed. Each had a pair of slippers and a coat near the wash room, which were quickly donned after work in field or shop. When at table, they looked neat; and each laid aside for the hour the work he was doing, and was ready for the social treat as well as the food placed before him.

Parents will reap rich reward if they will take thought to prepare their minds for home conversation. The golden rule will banish from the table, and from other places, the faultfinding and criticism of others. Father will be especially deferential and respectful in his talk to mother and in his treatment of her before the children. Mother will delight to please father. Thus children will learn to speak to parents with respect, and will copy their virtues.

Where there are children, the general conversation, if well directed, will not exclude them. All topics which they cannot understand will be kept for discussion when they are not present. There is so much of interest taking place in the world, so much that is inviting and entertaining in literature, that no occasion when the family can be together should be dull and lifeless.

Read only that which is best, then talk of what is read. Thus reading and conversation will be closely allied, and each will serve the other.

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