When John Howard Payne wrote the immortal words of “Home, Sweet Home,” adapting them to the beautiful Sicilian melody, now so familiar to us all, he gave to the world a precious legacy, which has brought sunshine into millions of hearts. “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.” And there is no other place in all the world where the little courtesies of life should be so tenderly given; where loving ministrations should be so cheerfully bestowed; in short, where good manners, in all the varied details of life, should be so diligently practised. “Home, sweet home!” the place where childhood days are spent, where habits are formed which are to continue through the future, and where the foundation is laid upon which the superstructure of after-years is to be built. What a halo lingers about the blessed spot! and how the soul of the exile cherishes the pictures which adorn the halls of memory,—pictures which the rude hand of time can never efface!
This earth has many lingering traces of Eden yet remaining, which enrapture the eye of the beholder. But there is no sight in all the world so beautiful as that of a well-ordered, harmonious Christian home,—a home where love reigns; where each esteems the other better than himself; where the parents are careful to practise what they preach; where the daily lessons instilled into the minds of the children from babyhood to maturity always and forever include the indispensable drills in good manners.
There is no school so important as the home school, no teacher so responsible as the parent, no pupil under such weighty obligations to deport himself creditably as is the son or daughter of the household. And may it not be asserted truthfully that there is no more thrilling commencement scene than that which sees the noble young man or young woman, having passed successfully through all the grades of the parental school, bid a regretful adieu to the dear childhood home, to enter upon a career of usefulness elsewhere, to spend and be spent in saving humanity? But how few such commencement scenes do we witness! How few pupils ever pass the test satisfactorily in the important branch of ethics! When parents practice good manners toward their children; when they find as much pleasure in the unaffected “please” and “thank you” of the home kindergarten as they do in the same marks of politeness elsewhere; when the deportment in the grades of the home school is considered of greater importance than that in the schools away from home, our preparatory schools and colleges will have less trouble in securing good behavior on the part of those in attendance, and the problem of how to maintain proper decorum will have lost its perplexity.
Every time a child says “please” it is a reminder that he is not independent, that he is in need of assistance. Every time he says “thank you,” he has yet another reminder that he is not independent, that he is under obligations to another for assistance received. Pure and undefiled religion and good manners cannot be separated. The child who is taught to say “please” because he is in need of human aid, may be made easily to comprehend the beautiful significance of prayer, because he is in need of divine aid. The child who is taught to say “thank you” for favors received from earthly friends, may be led easily to see the appropriateness of offering praise and thanksgiving for divine blessings.
Children who are made to realize that to appear well always in the society of home is infinitely more important than to try to appear well occasionally when away from home, cause little parental anxiety as to how they will deport themselves when absent. And children who practise good behavior in the home when no company is present, do not need to be called aside for a hasty lesson in this line when some one is about to call. Such lessons are very unsatisfactory, and are seldom remembered, being much like music lessons taken without the intervening practise.
Good manners cannot be put on and off with the best clothing, or donned momentarily to suit the occasion. But, unlike our ordinary apparel, the more they are worn, the more beautiful they appear. Good manners in the home means good manners everywhere; and each individual simply stands before the world an epitome of all his former training. If the child has learned to be honest and truthful in all the details of the home life, he may face the world in later years a worthy example of uprightness to all with whom he comes in contact. If he has learned to be habitually kind and courteous in the home, he is the same wherever he may be. If he always appears neat and tidy in the home, these pleasing characteristics will remain with him throughout life.
If the loved members of his own family circle never discover that he has a “temper of his own,” there is little danger that any one else will ever find it out. If his habits and practises at home are such as to ennoble and beautify his own life, his influence will rest as a benign benediction upon the beloved of his household, and the great world outside will be better because of his having lived in it. O, that every boy and girl might rightly appreciate the vast difference between manners of the soul and manners of the head,—manners of the heart and manners of the outward appearance! One is Christian religion, the other is cold formality. One means the salvation of souls; the other is but vanity and outward show.
But we are instructed that “true refinement and gentleness of manners can never be found in a home where selfishness reigns.” “We should be self-forgetful, ever looking out for opportunities, even in little things, to show gratitude for the favors we have received from others, and watching for opportunities to cheer others, and to lighten and relieve their sorrows and burdens, by acts of tender kindness and little deeds of love. These thoughtful courtesies that begin in our families, extend outside the family circle, and help to make up the sum of life’s happiness; and the neglect of these little things makes up the sum of life’s bitterness and sorrow.”
Boys and girls who rightly appreciate good manners will be polite and courteous in the home, and will share cheerfully in all the little duties of the household. Some one has said that idleness is “the chief author of all mischief.” And surely any individual who chooses to be idle rather than to be usefully employed, is exceedingly ill-bred. Children should be taught the nobility of labor, and to respect those who faithfully perform the humblest duties of life, just as much as those who accomplish the more difficult tasks.
There is pointed truth in the assertion that there is gospel in a loaf of good bread; but it is a sad comment on the home training of the present day that so few of our young people recognize this fact. It is to be deplored that the children nowadays receive so little training in the ins and outs of good housekeeping. No young lady should consider herself accomplished until she has acquired the art of making good bread, and of knowing how to prepare healthful and palatable meals. Even if it never should be her privilege to become the queen of a kitchen, there are always ample opportunities to impart such valuable knowledge to others.
The world is in direful need of practical boys and girls, practical young men and young women, who are not afraid to perform faithfully even the smallest duties that lie in the pathway of life, and who are willing to tax their thinking powers in order that their work may be done in the best possible manner. How much more in keeping with Christian manners that the son of the household should share in the burden of keeping the domestic machinery running smoothly, rather than misemploy his time, and grow up unacquainted with the practical duties of life! How much more appropriate that the daughter should assist the mother in performing the various household duties, rather than occupy a hammock or an easy chair, and spend her time in reading cheap books! Many a weary mother would appreciate such kindness on the part of her children more than words can express, and the children themselves would be the happier because of such thoughtful service.
The boy or girl who grows up in the belief that honorable labor in any direction is a God-given privilege, will realize that housework is not without its fascinations, and that manual training in the school is an important part of the daily curriculum. Such a child will realize that even an empty water-pail or a vacant wood-box presents a golden opportunity for usefulness which should not be slighted. He will not appropriate for himself the last pint of cold water from the pail, or the last cup of hot water from the teakettle, and complacently leave them for some one else to fill. That child, even though he be grown up who sees nothing in these little opportunities for usefulness, will let greater ones pass by with the same lack of appreciation.
Laziness is a deadly enemy to success; and the child who is indolent in the home, is likely to bring up the rear in the race of life. Laziness is no kin to true happiness. The lazy child is not the truly happy child. He lies in bed until late in the morning, is often careless about his personal appearance, is late to breakfast, late to school, and his name is entirely wanting when the highest credits are awarded. Such a child may be sometimes recognized by the neglected appearance of his teeth and finger-nails, the “high-water marks” about his neck and wrists, the dust on his clothing and shoes, his untidy hair, etc. In fact, he seems to have adopted as his life motto the paraphrase, “There is no excellence about great labor.”
A trite story is told of a man who was to be executed because of his persistent laziness. While being driven to the scaffold, he was given one more chance for his life by a kind-hearted individual who offered him a quantity of corn with which to make a new start. Upon hearing the suggestion, the condemned man slowly raised himself up, and rather dubiously inquired, “I-s i-t s-h-e-l-l-e-d?” Being informed to the contrary, he slowly settled down again, with the remark, “W-e-l-l, then, drive on.”
Now, boys and girls, you will find many occasions in life when it will be necessary for you to put forth an extra effort in order to succeed. But when some golden opportunity presents the corn to you, do not stop to inquire, “Is it shelled?” Learn to shell your own corn. Use your muscle as well as your brain, ever bearing in mind that increased strength, both physical and mental, comes as the result of the proper use of that which you now possess. Be workers, be thinkers, in the great world about you. The old saying that it is better to wear out than to rust out is not without forceful meaning.
In accordance with heaven-born manners, “let all things be done decently and in order.” All things include even the little chores which may be done by the members of the home kindergarten; it also includes the greatest task of which man is capable. If we would learn how particular Heaven is in regard to neatness and order, we should become familiar with God’s instructions to ancient Israel. The arrangement of the camp of Israel, and the whole round of tabernacle service, present a systematic demonstration of order and neatness such as Heaven approves. And the sad fate of Uzzah, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, attests to how particular God is in regard to perfect order.
If systematic order and neatness are to be maintained in the home, the members of the household must be united in putting forth the necessary efforts. And blessed is that family who make of home “a little heaven to go to heaven in.”
But let me repeat that “true refinement and gentleness of manners can never be found in a home where selfishness reigns.” And how many temptations to selfishness there are in the home life! Every day brings the choice between selfishness and self-sacrifice. Shall I take for myself the choicest apple? or shall I share in that which is not so agreeable? These may appear to be very insignificant questions. But, boys and girls, do you know that the habitual decisions at which you arrive in childhood, determine largely whether or not you will live by principle later on? “As the twig is bent, so the tree inclines.”
But the lesson of always giving cheerfully to others that which the natural heart would selfishly appropriate as its own, can be learned only in the school of Christ. And blessed is that parent or teacher who rightly appreciates the privilege of becoming an assistant in that school. Blessed is that pupil who realizes what it means to become such a devoted learner that he can find joy in denying self that he may minister to the comfort of others whenever an opportunity is afforded, recognizing that every heaven-appointed task is a part of the great cause of truth—the giving of the “gospel to all the world in this generation.” Every kindness shown to others, if done in the right spirit, is counted in the records of heaven as done to Christ himself. Even the cup of cold water given in his name, is never forgotten.
Kind words and loving deeds are as pebbles cast upon the great sea of humanity, the ever-widening circle of whose influence extends beyond the limited vision of him who projects them; and the eternal ages alone will reveal how many souls have been saved, and saved forever, as the grand result. How many girls and boys are watching every opportunity to share in this blessed work?
MRS. M. A. LOPER.
You lent a hand to a fallen one,
A lift in kindness given;
It saved a soul when help was none,
And won a heart for heaven.
And so for the help you proffered there,
You’ll reap a crown, sometime, somewhere.