Thursday, January 11, 2018

On Bringing Up Children - An Extensive Quotation

I dearly love George MacDonald's fiction (despite his sometimes faulty theology, which I have found to be unnoticeable in the best of his good and beautiful children's works) , and within the past several years I have traveled through a lesser-known trilogy of his - Annals of A Quiet Neighborhood, The Seaboard Parish, and The Vicar's Daughter. I was pleasantly surprised to find at the end of the last book, a whole chapter on the bringing up of children. It is written by the fictional vicar's daughter herself, but I am sure reflects G.M.'s own principles of child-rearing quite well. I heartily agreed with just about all of it, even though I had never encountered some of the specific ideas articulated, and wanted to put it somewhere where I could access and share it easily. So here is most of the chapter, hunted up and copied from
I think there can be no harm in mentioning a few general principles laid down by my father. They are such as to commend themselves most to the most practical. 
And first for a few negative ones.
1. Never give in to disobedience; and never threaten what you are not prepared to carry out.
2. Never lose your temper. I do not say never be angry. Anger is sometimes indispensable, especially where there has been any thing mean, dishonest, or cruel. But anger is very different from loss of temper. [Footnote: My Aunt Millicent is always saying, "I am grieeeved with you." But the announcement begets no sign of responsive grief on the face of the stolid child before her. She never whipped a child in her life. If she had, and it had but roused some positive anger in the child, instead of that undertone of complaint which is always oozing out of every one of them, I think It would have been a gain. But the poor lady is one of the whiny-piny people, and must be in preparation for a development of which I have no prevision. The only stroke of originality I thought I knew of her was this; to the register of her children's births, baptisms, and confirmations, entered on a grandly-ornamented fly-leaf of the family Bible, she has subjoined the record of every disease each has had, with the year, month, and day (and in one case the hour), when each distemper made its appearance. After most of the main entries, you may read, "Cut his (or her) first tooth"—at such a date. But, alas for the originality! she has just told me that her maternal grandmother did the same. How strange that she and my father should have had the same father I If they had had the same mother, too, I should have been utterly bewildered.]
3. Of all things, never sneer at them; and be careful, even, how you rally them.
4. Do not try to work on their feelings. Feelings are far too delicate things to be used for tools. It is like taking the mainspring out of your watch, and notching it for a saw. It may be a wonderful saw, but how fares your watch? Especially avoid doing so in connection with religious things, for so you will assuredly deaden them to all that is finest. Let your feelings, not your efforts on theirs, affect them with a sympathy the more powerful that it is not forced upon them; and, in order to do this, avoid being too English in the hiding of your feelings. A man's own family has a right to share in his good feelings.
5. Never show that you doubt, except you are able to convict. To doubt an honest child is to do what you can to make a liar of him; and to believe a liar, if he is not altogether shameless, is to shame him.
The common-minded masters in schools, who, unlike the ideal Arnold, are in the habit of disbelieving boys, have a large share in making the liars they so often are. Certainly the vileness of a lie is not the same in one who knows that whatever he says will be regarded with suspicion; and the master, who does not know an honest boy after he has been some time in his class, gives good reason for doubting whether he be himself an honest man, and incapable of the lying he is ready to attribute to all alike.
This last is my own remark, not my father's. I have an honest boy at school, and I know how he fares. I say honest; for though, as a mother, I can hardly expect to be believed, I have ground for believing that he would rather die than lie. I know I would rather he died than lied.
6. Instil no religious doctrine apart from its duty. If it have no duty as its necessary embodiment, the doctrine may well be regarded as doubtful.
7. Do not be hard on mere quarrelling, which, like a storm in nature, is often helpful in clearing the moral atmosphere. Stop it by a judgment between the parties. But be severe as to the kind of quarrelling, and the temper shown in it. Especially give no quarter to any unfairness arising from greed or spite. Use your strongest language with regard to that.
Now for a few of my father's positive rules:
1. Always let them come to you, and always hear what they have to say. If they bring a complaint, always examine into it, and dispense pure justice, and nothing but justice.
2. Cultivate a love of giving fair-play. Every one, of course, likes to receive fair-play; but no one ought to be left to imagine, therefore, that he loves fair-play.
3. Teach from the very first, from the infancy capable of sucking a sugar-plum, to share with neighbors. Never refuse the offering a child brings you, except you have a good reason,—and give it. And never pretend to partake: that involves hideous possibilities in its effects on the child.
The necessity of giving a reason for refusing a kindness has no relation to what is supposed by some to be the necessity of giving a reason with every command. There is no such necessity. Of course there ought to be a reason in every command. That it may be desirable, sometimes, to explain it, is all my father would allow.
4. Allow a great deal of noise,—as much as is fairly endurable; but, the moment they seem getting beyond their own control, stop the noise at once. Also put a stop at once to all fretting and grumbling.
5. Favor the development of each in the direction of his own bent. Help him to develop himself, but do not push development. To do so is most dangerous.
6. Mind the moral nature, and it will take care of the intellectual. In other words, the best thing for the intellect is the cultivation of the conscience, not in casuistry, but in conduct. It may take longer to arrive; but the end will be the highest possible health, vigor, and ratio of progress.
7. Discourage emulation, and insist on duty,—not often, but strongly.

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Shepherdess with Child by Jacob G. Kuyp

Saturday, December 30, 2017

A Gastronomic Commonplace

I've been fascinated with references to food, medicine and health (especially off-hand ones) in classic literature, so I decided to keep a log of all the interesting bits I find. Since these are not the type of notes that invite deep contemplation or spiritual enrichment, I decided to skip the hand written commonplace book for these and simply compile them online, (even with convenient copy-pastes from

"I have so often heard Mr. Woodhouse recommend a baked apple. I believe it is the only way that Mr. Woodhouse thinks the fruit thoroughly wholesome....only we do not have them baked more than twice, and Mr. Woodhouse made us promise to have them done three times—but Miss Woodhouse will be so good as not to mention it." - Miss Bates, Austen, Emma 

" He loved to have the cloth laid, because it had been the fashion of his youth, but his conviction of suppers being very unwholesome made him rather sorry to see any thing put on it; and while his hospitality would have welcomed his visitors to every thing, his care for their health made him grieve that they would eat. Such another small basin of thin gruel as his own was all that he could, with thorough self-approbation, recommend" - Mr. Woodhouse, Austen, Emma

"A husky-voiced gentleman with a rough face, who had been eating out of a sandwich-box nearly all the way, except when he had been drinking out of a bottle, said I was like a boa constrictor who took enough at one meal to last him a long time; after which, he actually brought a rash out upon himself with boiled beef." - Dickens, David Copperfield

To remain under edit indefinitely...

Sunday, October 15, 2017


Our son is in the "Why?" stage of life, between 3 and 4 years old. The questioning seems almost merciless at times, pushing the bounds of infinite regression, as he pries for just one more tidbit to feed his young appetite for knowledge. "Why did you drop that cup? Why does that happen sometimes? Why do you need to use the bathroom? Why don't you want me to put my hands in my mouth? Why is that not good? Why did you do that?...." The answers I have to give him for some of these wearisome wonderings seem quite valueless to me. But sometimes the "Why's" do turn up valuable bits of information. When I begin to talk to him about Scripture truths and he asks questions like, "Why did Jesus die? Why did they kill him? Why did He let them kill him? Why does he love us?" Oh, that one is a why indeed.

Today after reading about the garden of Eden, he asked, "Why did God make a tree like that?" and "Why did the snake lie to them?" As I pondered and articulated answers, I began to realize how, unlike many of the tedious details of my daily life, the story of God offers riches of knowledge ready to supply an infinite hunger to know and be fed in heart and mind.

If I would only offer Scripture the ravenous curiosity that my child offers me each day, how much might I discover? There is a point of stopping where "The secret things belong to the Lord our God" (Deut. 29:29), but I think that just as often as we are tempted to pry where we have no business, we are tempted to neglect stores of good things in which we ought to be having a great deal of business.

When I wake with a morning text in my head, maybe a question would bring more good to me from it than the customary thoughts. His mercies are new every morning. Why are His mercies new every morning? Because His faithfulness is great. Why is His faithfulness great? Because He does not change. Why does He not change? Because that is who He is.  At this point there are no more questions, but a great deal of solid assurance.

I think that at the back, or the bottom, or the peak of all our questioning, the ultimate answer will always be the person and nature of God. Because He is who He is, this is. Let's be taking our children's questions there too. For our children it will be a refuge.

Gathering Storm Near Ry by Vilhelm Kyhn

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Good Sparrow

The other morning, I decided I needed to go to Walmart (for the first time since we have lived in WV!)  because of the particular items on my shopping list that week. I loaded the children and paraphernalia into the car and headed out the driveway with the feeling of mild dread that comes from going to an unfamiliar and massive store which you don't really like, with toddlers. Maybe I should just stay home and make creative meals from the freezer and try to make the kid's shoes work until winter...but, no, I probably do need to go...

At a bend in our country road before the highway, I suddenly had to slow down for a sparrow landing in the road. The bird had spotted some tasty winged insect and was determined to have it, busy road and all. I watched him beating the tar out of the bug on the pavement until it submitted to being eaten and then fly off, triumphant in his petite success. God feeds the sparrows, and He will care for you. That's what seeing a sparrow so often brings to mind...And then I laughed. But sometimes they have to jump in the middle of the road to peck up the bugs, even if they are from the hand of God! 

All my reluctance to brave the badly lit Walmart aisles disappeared. The little bird had eaten from the hand of God in a most plucky fashion, and seeing him put pluck into me. I drove on with a smile and a light heart.

Did the Walmart shopping trip go beautifully? Well, apart from a certain child husking a corn cob randomly into the cart and then eating part of it raw before I bagged it, and screaming because of his hand being held for a certain section of aisle, and my barely rescuing a ripe plum from being eaten unbought...we did survive. And I found everything I needed. New toddler shoes for 4.99 and delightfully cheap prices on meat and cheese are almost as good as bug fresh off the road.

Sparrows by Alfred Brehm 

By His hand we all are fed.
Give us Lord our daily bread


Monday, July 3, 2017


After a Lord's day morning at home sick with the children and an afternoon spent with much singing, this portion from the Valley of Vision spoke perfectly to my thoughts:

Thou hast shown me
  that the sensible effusions of divine love
    in the soul are superior to and distinct from
    bodily health,
  and that oft-times spiritual comforts are
    at their highest when physical well-being is
    at its lowest.
Thou hast given me the ordinance of song
    as a means of grace;
Fit me to bear my part in that music ever new,
  which elect angels and saints made perfect
  now sing before thy throne and before the Lamb.

Even seeming dreary days can be practice for that glad unending day of praise. Thanks be to our God and Savior for common means of grace and His faithful presence with us through all our days.

The Sonata by Childe Hassam

From The Valley of Vision, "Blessings"

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

L. M. Montgomery on Living Education

I love reading L. M. Montgomery's works. They are just delicious. With any of my favorite authors, I also love, when I am nearing the point of expecting any further enjoyment from them to be in the form of re-reads, to discover a book I have never read. Finding an old green-covered copy of Jane of Lantern Hill at the big city library, next to the familiar Anne books was a treat indeed. Is it really the same Montgomery? Yes, oh yes!

As with nearly all Montgomery's heroines, Jane's domesticity, sympathy and industry inspire me. In this particular work, Jane's relationship with her father is exceptionally lovely, and I appreciated these lines on her summer education under his tutelage. (For context: Jane had grown to hate the Bible because of being forced to read the Old Testament each evening under the critical gaze of her stern grandmother and severe aunt.)
When dad had converted Jane to the Bible, he set about making history and geography come alive for her. She had told him she always found those subjects hard. But soon history no longer seemed a clutter of dates and names in some dim, cold antiquity but became a storied road of time when dad told her old tales of wonder and the pride of kings...Thebes...Babylon...Tyre...Athens...Galilee...were places where real folks lived...folks she knew. And knowing them, it was easy to be interested in everything pertaining to them. Geography, which had once meant merely a map of the world, was just as fascinating.
'Let's go to India,' dad would say...and they went...though Jane would sew buttons on dad's shirts all the way...Soon Jane knew all the fair lands far, far away as she knew Lantern Hill...or so it seemed to her after she had journeyed through them with father.
~ Jane of Lantern Hill by L. M. Montgomery
What an inspiration for a living-books based education! But more than that, a reminder that the best things I will teach my children are things that I have learned myself to love and can pass on to them wrapped in the glow of my own delight.

  Views across the Bosphorus, Constantinople by Hermann Corrodi

Saturday, June 17, 2017

What Happened to Margalo - Part 5

When Margalo woke, the dripping had stopped and bits of early morning sunlight were winking through the spruce boughs.  She noticed that the spruce tree was also very noisy. Many birds had taken refuge in the tree during the long, wet night and this morning they were all going on at once - singing, chirping, chattering and whistling. One of them was chattering rather more loudly than the others. It was a blue jay.
“Yes siree, I tell you,” he was saying, “I wasn’t a bit afraid of that fella, though he was twice my size. Were the wife and I about to let that hawk have a look at our nest and young’uns? No, sirree! We went a flying at him like all get-out, and he was mighty surprised. Yes siree, I tell you, mighty surprised. He turned that red tail right around and went back from a-whence he came!”
“And the crow,” mentioned a similar, but softer voice - the jay’s wife.
“Oh, yes, the crow,” the jay continued. “Well, he did help a little - not being our friend you know, but common enemies with the hawk - he came along and made a con-tree-bution to our chasing the hawk.”
“We couldn’t have done it without him, I think,” said the jay’s wife.
“Couldn’t have done it!” the jay exclaimed. “I won’t argue he was useful, but really now...”
Margalo shuddered. They were talking about that hawk again. She hoped she might never meet him - being less than half the size of even a blue-jay, and having no mate to help protect her. But there was nothing to do about that now - except to take care of this disgracefully matted plumage! Margolo fluffed her light brown feathers and began to preen herself discreetly, keeping near the trunk so as not to be noticed. When her feathers were once more sleek and tidy, she decided to have a look around and hopped a few inches out on the limb, turning her head and tiny bright black eyes this way and that. The birds were still chattering away.
Then, from high up in the spruce, there was a loud sound of feathers being shaken - loud, because they were LARGE, rough, rustling feathers. Margalo froze. The other birds froze. The chattering stopped. A dozen feathered heads tilted upward, and a dozen sets of small shining eyes gazed warily into the topmost boughs of the spruce.  Most of them had forgotten the fact that little birds were not the only kind of birds to hide from storms in giant trees. In the stillness, they all sensed a trembling in the treetop and felt the branches quiver lightly as two large clawed feet sprang from the spruce’s height, and two great brown wings flapped crisply upward into the morning air.
Another small brown finch besides Margalo had slept in the tree that stormy night. His name was Benedict. Benedict slept in the spruce tree every night – not just when there were storms. He had not seen Margalo, because he was perched several branches higher, but he did notice when the hawk had first landed in the tree late in the rainy evening.  The hawk seemed more interested in resting at the moment than in looking for small birds to attack, for which Benedict was grateful. Besides, Benedict (who was sensible as well as courageous) knew there was no use in getting away on such a night, so he remained where he was and went promptly back to sleep. But he was relieved when the hawk flew off in the morning, taking his sharp eyes and sharp talons with him.  
After the hawk had gone, Benedict ventured out from the dim, damp inside of the tree to the wet and prickly outside which glistened gently in the morning sun. The clouds, having spent themselves on the land, were floating loose and lacy in the blue sky. Everything was fresh and delicious and bright again. Benedict decided to have a good hearty sing. So he did.
Swee-e-et is the morn!
A new day is born!
Swee-e-et is the air!
The sunshine is fair!
Then Benedict saw Margalo on a branch below him. She too, had hopped out into the sunshine and was refreshing herself by drinking beads of rain from the dripping spruce needles, pausing now and then to delicately shake the moisture from her brown feathers. Benedict thought she was very beautiful, and was sure he hadn’t seen her before. “Perhaps she is lost” he thought, “and will need my help.” So he flew down to Margalo’s branch. “Good morning,” he said.
        “Good morning,” Margalo replied.
        “Have you spent a pleasant night?” asked Benedict.
        “Pleasant enough,” Margalo answered. “I would much rather have spent the night in Mr. Grove’s barn, but I lost my way in the storm, so I was glad for the shelter of this tree.”
“I am familiar with Mr. Grove’s barn,” said Benedict. “Would you like me to show you the way back?”
        “Oh, yes, please – and thank you very much” said Margalo, which Benedict thought was quite proper, and he said “You are welcome” then turned toward the sun. “Follow me,” he said and with a flutter of wings rose into the air. Margalo with a flutter of her own was not far behind.

Benedict guided Margalo safely to Mr. Grove’s barn, where a cluster of worried pigeons greeted her with much relief and chortles of pleasure. Margalo thanked him again very cordially, and Benedict replied, “I am glad to be of service.” Then, having accomplished his mission, he flew back into the morning air and headed south towards the rye fields.