William J. Bennett has collected hundreds of stories in The Book of Virtues, an instructive and inspiring anthology that will help children understand and develop character and help adults teach them. From the Bible to American history, from Greek mythology to English poetry, from fairy tales to modern fiction, these stories are a rich mine of moral literacy, a reliable moral reference point that will help anchor our children and ourselves in our culture, our history, and our traditions the sources of the ideals by which we wish to live our lives. Complete with instructive introductions and notes, The Book of Virtues is a book the whole family can read and enjoy and learn from together.
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In self-discipline one makes a "disciple" of oneself. One is one's own teacher, trainer, coach, and "disciplinarian." It is an odd sort of relationship, paradoxical in its own way, and many of us don't handle it very well. There is much unhappiness and personal distress in the world because of failures to control tempers, appetites, passions, and impulses. "Oh, if only I had stopped myself" is an all too familiar refrain.
The father of modern philosophy, René Descartes, once remarked of "good sense" that "everybody thinks he is so well supplied with it, that even the most difficult to please in all other matters never desire more of it than they already possess." With self-discipline it is just the opposite. Rare indeed is the person who doesn't desire more self-discipline and, with it, the control that it gives one over the course of one's life and development. That desire is itself, as Descartes might say, a further mark of good sense. We do want to take charge of ourselves. But what does that mean?
The question has been at or near the center of Western philosophy since its very beginnings. Plato divided the soul into three parts or operations reason, passion, and appetite and said that right behavior results from harmony or control of these elements. Saint Augustine sought to understand the soul by ranking its various forms of love in his famous ordo amoris: love of God, neighbor, self, and material goods. Sigmund Freud divided the psyche into the id, ego, and superego. And we find William Shakespeare examining the conflicts of the soul, the struggle between good and evil called the psychomachia, in immortal works such as King Lear, Macbeth, Othello, and Hamlet. Again and again, the problem is one of the soul's proper balance and order. "This was the noblest Roman of them all," Antony says of Brutus in Julius Caesar. "His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up and say to all the world, 'This was a man!'"
But the question of correct order of the soul is not simply the domain of sublime philosophy and drama. It lies at the heart of the task of successful everyday behavior, whether it is controlling our tempers, or our appetites, or our inclinations to sit all day in front of the television. As Aristotle pointed out, here our habits make all the difference. We learn to order our souls the same way we learn to do math problems or play baseball well through practice.
Practice, of course, is the medicine so many people find hard to swallow. If it were easy, we wouldn't have such modern-day phenomena as multimillon-dollar diet and exercise industries. We can enlist the aid of trainers, therapists, support groups, step programs, and other strategies, but in the end, it's practice that brings self-control.
The case of Aristotle's contemporary Demosthenes illustrates the point. Demosthenes had great ambition to become an orator, but suffered natural limitations as a speaker. Strong desire is essential, but by itself is insufficient. According to Plutarch, "His inarticulate and stammering pronunciation he overcame and rendered more distinct by speaking with pebbles in his mouth." Give yourself an even greater challenge than the one you are trying to master and you will develop the powers necessary to overcome the original difficulty. He used a similar strategy in training his voice, which "he disciplined by declaiming and reciting speeches or verses when he was out of breath, while running or going up steep places." And to keep himself studying without interruption "two or three months together," Demosthenes shaved "one half of his head, that so for shame he might not go abroad, though he desired it ever so much." Thus did Demosthenes make a kind of negative support group out of a general public that never saw him!
Good and Bad Children
Robert Louis Stevenson
Children, you are very little,
And your bones are very brittle;
If you would grow great and stately,
You must try to walk sedately.
You must still be bright and quiet,
And content with simple diet;
And remain, through all bewild'ring,
Innocent and honest children.
Happy hearts and happy faces,
Happy play in grassy places
That was how, in ancient ages,
Children grew to kings and sages.
But the unkind and the unruly,
And the sort who eat unduly,
They must never hope for glory
Theirs is quite a different story!
Cruel children, crying babies,
All grow up as geese and gabies,
Hated, as their age increases,
By their nephews and their nieces.
Webster's defines our manners as our "morals shown in conduct." Good people stick to good manners, as this story from a turn-of-the-century reader reminds us.
There was once a little word named "Please," that lived in a small boy's mouth. Pleases live in everybody's mouth, though people often forget they are there.
Now, all Pleases, to be kept strong and happy, should be taken out of the mouth very often, so they can get air. They are like little fish in a bowl, you know, that come popping up to the top of the water to breathe.
The Please I am going to tell you about lived in the mouth of a boy named Dick; but only once in a long while did it have a chance to get out. For Dick, I am sorry to say, was a rude little boy; he hardly ever remembered to say "Please."
"Give me some bread! I want some water! Give me that book!" that is the way he would ask for things.
His father and mother felt very bad about this. And, as for the poor Please itself, it would sit up on the roof of the boy's mouth day after day, hoping for a chance to get out. It was growing weaker and weaker every day.
This boy Dick had a brother, John. Now, John was older than Dick he was almost ten; and he was just as polite as Dick was rude. So his Please had plenty of fresh air, and was strong and happy.
One day at breakfast, Dick's Please felt that he must have some fresh air, even if he had to run away. So out he ran out of Dick's mouth and took a long breath. Then he crept across the table and jumped into John's mouth!
The Please-who-lived-there was very angry.
"Get out!" he cried. "You don't belong here! This is my mouth!"
"I know it," replied Dick's Please. "I live over there in that brother mouth. But alas! I am not happy there. I am never used. I never get a breath of fresh air! I thought you might be willing to let me stay here for a day or so until I felt stronger."
"Why, certainly," said the other Please, kindly. "I understand. Stay, of course; and when my master uses me, we will both go out together. He is kind, and I am sure he would not mind saying 'Please' twice. Stay, as long as you like."
That noon, at dinner, John wanted some butter; and this is what he said:
"Father, will you pass me the butter, please please?"
"Certainly," said the father. "But why be so very polite?"
John did not answer. He was turning to his mother, and said,
"Mother, will you give me a muffin, please please?"
His mother laughed.
"You shall have the muffin, dear; but why do you say 'please' twice?"
"I don't know," answered John. "The words seem just to jump out, somehow. Katie, please please, some water!
"This time, John was almost frightened.
"Well, well," said his father, "there is no harm done. One can't be too 'pleasing' in this world."
All this time little Dick had been calling, "Give me an egg! I want some milk. Give me a spoon!" in the rude way he had. But now he stopped and listened to his brother. He thought it would be fun to try to talk like John; so he began,
"Mother, will you give me a muffin, m-m-m-?"
He was trying to say "please"; but how could he? He never guessed that his own little Please was sitting in John's mouth. So he tried again, and asked for the butter.
"Mother, will you pass me the butter, m-m-m-?"
That was all he could say.
So it went on all day, and everyone wondered what was the matter with those two boys. When night came, they were both so tired, and Dick was so cross, that their mother sent them to bed very early.
But the next morning, no sooner had they sat down to breakfast than Dick's Please ran home again. He had had so much fresh air the day before that now he was feeling quite strong and happy. And the very next moment, he had another airing; for Dick said,
"Father, will you cut my orange, please?" Why! the word slipped out as easily as could be! It sounded just as well as when John said it John was saying only one "please" this morning. And from that time on, little Dick was just as polite as his brother.
Who Slammed Doors for Fun and Perished Miserably.
Aristotle would have loved this poem and the one that follows it. The first illustrates excess, the second deficiency. The trick to finding correct behavior is to strike the right balance. (See the passage from Aristotle's Ethics, later in this chapter.)
A trick that everyone abhors
In Little Gifts is slamming Doors.
A Wealthy Banker's Little Daughter
Who lived in Palace Green, Bayswater
(By name Rebecca Offendort),
Was given to this Furious Sport.
She would deliberately go
And Slam the door like Billy-Ho!
To make her Uncle Jacob start.
She was not really bad at heart,
But only rather rude and wild:
She was an aggravating child....
It happened that a Marble Bust
of Abraham was standing just
dAbove the Door this little Lamb
Had carefully prepared to Slam,
And Down it came! It knocked her flat!
It laid her out! She looked like that.
Her Funeral Sermon (which was long
And followed by a Sacred Song)
Mentioned her Virtues, it is true,
But dwelt upon her Vices too,
And showed the Dreadful End of One
Who goes and slams the Door for Fun.
The children who were brought to hear
The awful Tale from far and near
Were much impressed, and inly swore
They never more would slam the Door.
As often they had done before.
Godfrey Gordon Gustavus Gore
William Brighty Rands
Godfrey Gordon Gustavus Gore
No doubt you have heard the name before
Was a boy who never would shut a door!
The wind might whistle, the wind might roar,
And teeth be aching and throats be sore,
But still he never would shut the door.
His father would beg, his mother implore,
"Godfrey Gordon Gustavus Gore,
We really do wish you would shut the door!"
Their hands they wrung, their hair they tore;
But Godfrey Gordon Gustavus Gore
Was deaf as the buoy out at the Nore.
When he walked forth the folks would roar,
"Godfrey Gordon Gustavus Gore,
Why don't you think to shut the door?"
They rigged out a Shutter with sail and oar,
And threatened to pack off Gustavus Gore
On a voyage of penance to Singapore.
But he begged for mercy, and said, "No more!
Pray do not send me to Singapore
On a Shutter, and then I will shut the door."
"You will?" said his parents; "then keep on shore!
But mind you do! For the plague is sore
Of a fellow that never will shut the door,
Godfrey Gordon Gustavus Gore!"
The Lovable Child
We meet the well-behaved child (whom everybody loves).
Frisky as a lambkin,
Busy as a bee
That's the kind of little girl
People like to see.
Modest as a violet,
As a rosebud sweet
That's the kind of little girl
People like to meet.
Bright as is a diamond,
Pure as any pearl
Everyone rejoices in
Such a little girl.
Happy as a robin,
Gentle as a dove
That's the kind of little girl
Everyone will love.
Fly away and seek her,
Little song of mine,
For I choose that very girl
As my Valentine.
John, Tom, and James
We meet three ill-behaved children (whom nobody likes).
John was a bad boy, and beat a poor cat;
Tom put a stone in a blind man's hat;
James was the boy who neglected his prayers;
They've all grown up ugly, and nobody cares.
There Was a Little Girl
We meet the child who, like most, is sometimes well behaved and sometimes not. And we face a hard, unavoidable fact of life: if we cannot control our own behavior, eventually someone will come and control it for us in a way we probably will not like. This poem is sometimes attributed to Henry Wadsworth Long-fellow.
There was a little girl,
And she had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good
She was very, very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid.
One day she went upstairs,
When her parents, unawares,
In the kitchen were occupied with meals,
And she stood upon her head
In her little trundle-bed,
And then began hooraying with her heels.
Her mother heard the noise,
And she thought it was the boys
A-playing at a combat in the attic;
But when she climbed the stair,
And found Jemima there,
She took and she did spank her most emphatic.
My Own Self
Retold by Joseph Jacobs
Sometimes fortune offers us close calls we should take as warnings. Heaving a sigh of relief is not enough; if we're smart, we'll change our behavior. Self-discipline is learned in the face of adversity, as this old English fairy tale reminds us.
In a tiny house in the North Countrie, far away from any town or village, there lived not long ago, a poor widow all alone with her little son, a six-year-old boy.
The house door opened straight on to the hillside, and all around about were moorlands and huge stones, and swampy hollows; never a house nor a sign of life wherever you might look, for their nearest neighbors were the fairies in the glen below, and the "will-o'-the-wisps" in the long grass along the path-side.
And many a tale the widow could tell of the "good folk" calling to each other in the oak trees, and the twinkling lights hopping on to the very windowsill, on dark nights; but in spite of the loneliness, she lived on from year to year in the little house, perhaps because she was never asked to pay any rent for it.
But she did not care to sit up late, when the fire burned low, and no one knew what might be about. So, when they had had their supper she would make up a good fire and go off to bed, so that if anything terrible did happen, she could always hide her head under the bedclothes.
This, however, was far too early to please her little son; so when she called him to bed, he would go on playing beside the fire, as if he did not hear her.
He had always been bad to do with since the day he was born, and his mother did not often care to cross him. Indeed, the more she tried to make him obey her, the less heed he paid to anything she said, so it usually ended by his taking his own way.
But one night, just at the fore-end of winter, the widow could not make up her mind to go off to bed, and leave him playing by the fireside. For the wind was tugging at the door, and rattling the windowpanes, and well she knew that on such a night, fairies and such like were bound to be out and about, and bent on mischief. So she tried to coax the boy into going at once to bed:
"It's safest to bide in bed on such a night as this!" she said. But no, he wouldn't go.
Then she threatened to "give him the stick," but it was no use.
The more she begged and scolded, the more he shook his head; and when at last she lost patience and cried that the fairies would surely come and fetch him away, he only laughed and said he wished they would, for he would like one to play with.
At that his mother burst into tears, and went off to bed in despair, certain that after such words something dreadful would happen, while her naughty little son sat on his stool by the fire, not at all put out by her crying.
But he had not long been sitting there alone, when he heard a fluttering sound near him in the chimney, and presently down by his side dropped the tiniest wee girl you could think of. She was not a span high, and had hair like spun silver, eyes as green as grass, and cheeks red as June roses.
The little boy looked at her with surprise.
"Oh!" said he, "what do they call ye?"
"My own self," she said in a shrill but sweet little voice, and she looked at him too. "And what do they call ye?"
"Just my own self too," he answered cautiously; and with that they began to play together.
She certainly showed him some fine games. She made animals out of the ashes that looked and moved like life, and trees with green leaves waving over tiny houses, with men and women an inch high in them, who, when she breathed on them, fell to walking and talking quite properly.
But the fire was getting low, and the light dim, and presently the little boy stirred the coals with a stick, to make them blaze, when out jumped a red-hot cinder, and where should it fall, but on the fairy child's tiny foot!
Thereupon she set up such a squeal, that the boy dropped the stick, and clapped his hands to his ears. But it grew to so shrill a screech, that it was like all the wind in the world, whistling through one tiny keyhole!
There was a sound in the chimney again, but this time the little boy did not wait to see what it was, but bolted off to bed, where he hid under the blankets and listened in fear and trembling to what went on.
A voice came from the chimney speaking sharply:
"Who's there, and what's wrong?" it said.
"It's my own self," sobbed the fairy child, "and my loot's burned sore. O-o-h!"
"Who did it?" said the voice angrily. This time it sounded nearer, and the boy, peeping from under the clothes, could see a white face looking out from the chimney opening!
"Just my own self too!" said the fairy child again.
"Then if ye did it your own self," cried the elf mother shrilly, "what's the use o' making all this fuss about it?" and with that she stretched out a long thin arm, and caught the creature by its ear, and, shaking it roughly, pulled it after her, out of sight up the chimney!
The little boy lay awake a long time, listening, in case the fairy mother should come back after all. And next evening after supper, his mother was surprised to find that he was willing to go to bed whenever she liked.
"He's taking a turn for the better at last!" she said to herself. But he was thinking just then that, when next a fairy came to play with him, he might not get off quite so easily as he had done this time.
To the Little Girl Who Wriggles
Laura E. Richards
In which we learn to sit still.
Don't wriggle about anymore, my dear!
I'm sure all your joints must be sore, my dear!
It's wriggle and jiggle, it's twist and it's wiggle,
Like an eel on a shingly shore, my dear,
Like an eel on a shingly shore.
Oh! how do you think you would feel, my dear,
If you should turn into an eel, my dear?
With never an arm to protect you from harm,
And no sign of a toe or a heel, my dear,
No sign of a toe or a heel?
And what do you think you would do, my dear,
Far down in the water so blue, my dear,
Where the prawns and the shrimps, with their curls and their crimps,
Would turn up their noses at you, my dear,
Would turn up their noses at you?
The crab he would give you a nip, my dear,
And the lobster would lend you a clip, my dear.
And perhaps if a shark should come by in the dark,
Down his throat you might happen to slip, my dear,
Down his throat you might happen to slip.
Then try to sit still on your chair, my dear!
To your parents 'tis no more than fair, my dear.
For we really don't feel like inviting an eel
Our board and our lodging to share, my dear,
Our board and our lodging to share.
Who ran away from his Nurse, and was eaten by a Lion.
In which we discover the kind of gruesome end that comes to children who dart away from their mothers into streets, run away from their fathers at crowded ball parks, dash screaming down grocery store aisles, and who in general cannot bring themselves to hold on to the hand they are told to hold.
There was a Boy whose name was Jim;
His Friends were very good to him.
They gave him Tea, and Cakes, and Jam,
And slices of delicious Ham,
And Chocolate with pink inside,
And little Tricycles to ride,
And read him Stories through and through,
And even took him to the Zoo
But there it was the dreadful Fate
Befell him, which I now relate.
You know at least you ought to know,
For I have often told you so
That Children never are allowed
To leave their Nurses in a Crowd;
Now this was Jim's especial Foible,
He ran away when he was able,
And on this inauspicious day
He slipped his hand and ran away!
He hadn't gone a yard when Bang!
With open Jaws, a Lion sprang,
And hungrily began to eat
The Boy: beginning at his feet.
Now just imagine how it feels
When first your toes and then your heels,
And then by gradual degrees,
Your shins and ankles, calves and knees,
Are slowly eaten, bit by bit.
No wonder Jim detested it!
No wonder that he shouted "Hi!"
The Honest Keeper heard his cry,
Though very fat he almost ran
To help the little gentleman.
'Ponto!" he ordered as he came
(For Ponto was the Lion's name),
"Ponto!" he cried, with angry Frown.
"Let go, Sir! Down, Sir! Put it down!"
The Lion made a sudden Stop,
He let the Dainty Morsel drop,
And slunk reluctant to his Cage,
Snarling with Disappointed Rage.
But when he bent him over Jim,
The Honest Keeper's Eyes were dim.
The Lion having reached his Head,
The Miserable Boy was dead!
When Nurse informed his Parents, they
Were more Concerned than I can say:
His Mother, as She dried her eyes,
Said, "Well it gives me no surprise,
He would not do as he was told!"
His Father, who was self-controlled,
Bade all the children round attend
To James' miserable end,
And always keep a-hold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse.
In which we discover the unfortunate consequences of fighting.
The gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat;
'Twas half past twelve, and (what do you think!)
Nor one nor t'other had slept a wink!
The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate
Appeared to know as sure as fate
There was going to be a terrible spat.
(I wasn't there; I simply state What was told to me by the Chinese plate!)
The gingham dog went "bow-wow-wow!"
And the calico cat replied "mee-ow!"
The air was littered an hour or so,
With bits of gingham and calico.
While the old Dutch clock in the chimney place
Up with its hands before its face,
For it always dreaded a family row!
(Now mind; I'm only telling you What the old Dutch clock declares is true!)
The Chinese plate looked very blue,
And wailed, "Oh, dear! what shall we do!"
But the gingham dog and the calico cat
Wallowed this way and tumbled that,
Employing every tooth and claw
In the awfullest way you ever saw
And, oh! how the gingham and calico flew!
(Don't fancy I exaggerate I got my news from the Chinese plate!)
Next morning, where the two had sat
They found no trace of dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole that pair away!
But the truth about the cat and pup
Is this: they ate each other up!
Now what do you really think of that!
(The old Dutch clock it told me so, And that is how I came to know.)
Let Dogs Delight to Bark and Bite
Let dogs delight to bark and bite,
For God hath made them so;
Let bears and lions growl and fight,
For 'tis their nature too.
But, children, you should never let
Such angry passions rise;
Your little hands were never made
To tear each other's eyes.
The King and His Hawk
Retold by James Baldwin
Thomas Jefferson gave us simple but effective advice about controlling our temper: count to ten before you do anything, and if very angry, count to a hundred. Genghis Khan (c. 11621227), whose Mongol empire stretched from eastern Europe to the Sea of Japan, could have used Jefferson's remedy in this tale.
Genghis Khan was a great king and warrior.
He led his army into China and Persia, and he conquered many lands. In every country, men told about his daring deeds, and they said that since Alexander the Great there had been no king like him.
One morning when he was home from the wars, he rode out into the woods to have a day's sport. Many of his friends were with him. They rode out gayly, carrying their bows and arrows. Behind them came the servants with the hounds.
It was a merry hunting party. The woods rang with their shouts and laughter. They expected to carry much game home in the evening.
On the king's wrist sat his favorite hawk, for in those days hawks were trained to hunt. At a word from their masters they would fly high up into the air, and look around for prey. If they chanced to see a deer or a rabbit, they would swoop down upon it swift as any arrow.
All day long Genghis Khan and his huntsmen rode through the woods. But they did not find as much game as they expected.
Toward evening they started for home. The king had often ridden through the woods, and he knew all the paths. So while the rest of the party took the nearest way, he went by a longer road through a valley between two mountains.
The day had been warm, and the king was very thirsty. His pet hawk had left his wrist and flown away. It would be sure to find its way home.
The king rode slowly along. He had once seen a spring of clear water near this pathway. If he could only find it now! But the hot days of summer had dried up all the mountain brooks.
At last, to his joy, he saw some water trickling down over the edge of a rock. He knew that there was a spring farther up. In the wet season, a swift stream of water always poured down here; but now it came only one drop at a time.
The king leaped from his horse. He took a little silver cup from his hunting bag. He held it so as to catch the slowly falling drops.
It took a long time to fill the cup; and the king was so thirsty that he could hardly wait. At last it was nearly full. He put the cup to his lips, and was about to drink.
All at once there was a whirring sound in the air, and the cup was knocked from his hands. The water was all spilled upon the ground.
The king looked up to see who had done this thing. It was his pet hawk.
The hawk flew back and forth a few times, and then alighted among the rocks by the spring.
The king picked up the cup, and again held it to catch the trickling drops.
This time he did not wait so long. When the cup was half full, he lifted it toward his mouth. But before it had touched his lips, the hawk swooped down again, and knocked it from his hands.
And now the king began to grow angry. He tried again, and for the third time the hawk kept him from drinking.
The king was now very angry indeed.
"How do you dare to act so?" he cried. "If I had you in my hands, I would wring your neck!"
Then he filled the cup again. But before he tried to drink, he drew his sword.
"Now, Sir Hawk," he said, "this is the last time."
He had hardly spoken before the hawk swooped down and knocked the cup from his hand. But the king was looking for this. With a quick sweep of the sword he struck the bird as it passed.
The next moment the poor hawk lay bleeding and dying at its master's feet.
"That is what you get for your pains," said Genghis Khan.
But when he looked for his cup, he found that it had fallen between two rocks, where he could not reach it.
"At any rate, I will have a drink from that spring," he said to himself.
With that he began to climb the steep bank to the place from which the water trickled. It was hard work, and the higher he climbed, the thirstier he became.
At last he reached the place. There indeed was a pool of water; but what was that lying in the pool, and almost filling it? It was a huge, dead snake of the most poisonous kind.
The king stopped. He forgot his thirst. He thought only of the poor dead bird lying on the ground below him.
"The hawk saved my life!" he cried, "and how did I repay him? He was my best friend, and I have killed him."
He clambered down the bank. He took the bird up gently, and laid it in his hunting bag. Then he mounted his horse and rode swiftly home. He said to himself,
"I have learned a sad lesson today, and that is, never to do anything in anger."
Charles and Mary Lamb
Anger in its time and place
May assume a kind of grace.
It must have some reason in it,
And not last beyond a minute.
If to further lengths it go,
It does into malice grow.
'Tis the difference that we see
'Twixt the serpent and the bee.
If the latter you provoke,
It inflicts a hasty stroke,
Puts you to some little pain,
But it never stings again.
Close in tufted bush or brake
Lurks the poison-swelled snake
Nursing up his cherished wrath;
In the purlieus of his path,
In the cold, or in the warm,
Mean him good, or mean him harm,
Wheresoever fate may bring you,
The vile snake will always sting you.
Why should we bother to practice cleanliness? Aside from some very good practical considerations, Francis Bacon reminded us why: "For cleanness of body was ever esteemed to proceed from a due reverence to God, to society, and to ourselves."
There was one little Jim,
'Tis reported of him,
And must be to his lasting disgrace,
That he never was seen
With hands at all clean,
Nor yet ever clean was his face.
His friends were much hurt
To see so much dirt,
And often they made him quite clean;
But all was in vain,
He got dirty again,
And not at all fit to be seen.
It gave him no pain
To hear them complain,
Nor his own dirty clothes to survey;
His indolent mind
No pleasure could find
In tidy and wholesome array.
The idle and bad,
Like this little lad,
May love dirty ways, to be sure;
But good boys are seen,
To be decent and clean,
Although they are ever so poor.
Dear Lord, sometimes my hair gets quite
Untidy, rough, and mussy;
And when my Mother makes it right
I'm apt to think she's fussy.
My hands get black with different dirts,
And when no one is present,
I don't half wash; I think it hurts
To make myself more pleasant.
Please make me feel that Cleanliness
Is just a proper virtue,
And that cold water's here to bless,
And never here to hurt you.
Please show me how I always can
Do simple things, that lead to
The making of a gentleman,
And wash, because I need to.
Table Rules for Little Folks
In which we learn how to take our daily bread.
In silence I must take my seat,
And give God thanks before I eat;
Must for my food in patience wait,
Till I am asked to hand my plate;
I must not scold, nor whine, nor pout,
Nor move my chair nor plate about;
With knife, or fork, or napkin ring,
I must not play, nor must I sing.
I must not speak a useless word,
For children should be seen, not heard;
I must not talk about my food,
Nor fret if I don't think it good;
I must not say, "The bread is old,"
"The tea is hot," "The coffee's cold";
My mouth with food I must not crowd,
Nor while I'm eating speak aloud;
Must turn my head to cough or sneeze,
And when I ask, say "If you please";
The tablecloth I must not spoil,
Nor with my food my fingers soil;
Must keep my seat when I have done,
Nor round the table sport or run;
When told to rise, then I must put
My chair away with noiseless foot;
And lift my heart to God above,
In praise for all his wondrous love.
The Little Gentleman
Take your meals, my little man,
Always like a gentleman;
Wash your face and hands with care,
Change your shoes, and brush your hair;
Then so fresh, and clean and neat,
Come and take your proper seat;
Do not loiter and be late,
Making other people wait;
Do not rudely point or touch:
Do not eat and drink too much:
Finish what you have before
You even ask or send for more:
Never crumble or destroy
Food that others might enjoy;
They who idly crumbs will waste
Often want a loaf to taste!
Never spill your milk or tea,
Never rude or noisy be;
Never choose the daintiest food,
Be content with what is good:
Seek in all things that you can
To be a little gentleman.
Our Lips and Ears
In which we learn how to conduct our conversation.
If you your lips would keep from slips,
Five things observe with care:
Of whom you speak, to whom you speak,
And how and when and where.
If you your ears would save from jeers,
These things keep meekly hid:
Myself and I, and mine and my,
And how I do and did.
In which we learn how to retire for the evening.
When little Fred
Was called to bed,
He always acted right;
He kissed Mama,
And then Papa,
And wished them all good night.
He made no noise,
Like naughty boys,
But gently up the stairs
When he was sent,
And always said his prayers.
The Story of Augustus, Who Would Not Have Any Soup
In which we see the inevitable result of not eating enough of the right stuff.
Augustus was a chubby lad;
Fat, ruddy cheeks Augustus had;
And everybody saw with joy
The plump and hearty, healthy boy.
He ate and drank as he was told,
And never let his soup get cold.
But one day, one cold winter's day,
He screamed out "Take the soup away!
O take the nasty soup away!
I won't have any soup today."
Next day begins his tale of woes;
Quite lank and lean Augustus grows.
Yet, though he feels so weak and ill,
The naughty fellow cries out still
"Not any soup for me, I say:
O take the nasty soup away!
I won't have any soup today."
The third day comes; O what a sin!
To make himself so pale and thin.
Yet, when the soup is put on table,
He screams, as loud as he is able-
"Not any soup for me, I say:
O take the nasty soup away!
I won't have any soup today."
Look at him, now the fourth day's come!
He scarcely weighs a sugarplum;
He's like a little bit of thread,
And on the fifth day, he was dead!
This one belongs on the refrigerator door.
The Vulture eats between his meals,
And that's the reason why
He very, very rarely feels
As well as you or I.
His eye is dull, his head is bald,
His neck is growing thinner.
Oh, what a lesson for us all
To only eat at dinner.
The Boy and the Nuts
One good, practical reason for controlling our cravings is that if we grasp for too much, we may end up getting nothing at all.
A little boy once found a jar of nuts on the table.
"I would like some of these nuts," he thought. "I'm sure Mother would give them to me if she were here. I'll take a big handful." So he reached into the jar and grabbed as many as he could hold.
But when he tried to pull his hand out, he found the neck of the jar was too small. His hand was held fast, but he did not want to drop any of the nuts.
He tried again and again, but he couldn't get the whole handful out. At last he began to cry.
Just then his mother came into the room. "What's the matter?" she asked.
"I can't take this handful of nuts out of the jar," sobbed the boy.
"Well, don't be so greedy," his mother replied. "Just take two or three, and you'll have no trouble getting your hand out."
"How easy that was," said the boy as he left the table. "I might have thought of that myself."
The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs
Here is Aesop's classic fable about plenty not being enough, about what happens when "having it all" becomes the motto of the day.
A man and his wife had the good fortune to possess a goose that laid a golden egg every day. Lucky though they were, they soon began to think they were not getting rich fast enough, and, imagining the bird must be made of gold inside, they decided to kill it in order to secure the whole store of precious metal at once. But when they cut it open they found it was just like any other goose. Thus, they neither got rich all at once, as they had hoped, nor enjoyed any longer the daily addition to their wealth.
Much wants more and loses all.
The Flies and the Honey Pot
A jar of honey chanced to spill
Its contents on the windowsill
In many a viscous pool and rill.
The flies, attracted by the sweet,
Began so greedily to eat,
They smeared their fragile wings and feet.
With many a twitch and pull in vain
They gasped to get away again,
And died in aromatic pain.
O foolish creatures that destroy
Themselves for transitory joy.
Mr. Vinegar and His Fortune
Retold by James Baldwin
A runaway appetite is just about the surest ticket to never getting anywhere. The English philosopher John Locke put it this way: "He that has not a mastery over his inclinations; he that knows not how to resist the importunity of present pleasure or pain, for the sake of what reason tells him is fit to be done, wants the true principle of virtue and industry, and is in danger of never being good for anything." Meet Mr. Vinegar, who is in such danger.
A long time ago there lived a poor man whose real name has been forgotten. He was little and old, and his face was wrinkled; and that is why his friends called him Mr. Vinegar.
His wife was also little and old, and they lived in a little old cottage at the back of a little old field.
One day when Mrs. Vinegar was sweeping, she swept so hard that the little old door of the cottage fell down.
She was frightened. She ran out into the field and cried, "John! John! The house is falling down. We shall have no shelter over our heads."
Mr. Vinegar came and looked at the door.
Then he said, "Don't worry about that, my dear. Put on your bonnet and we will go out and seek our fortune."
So Mrs. Vinegar put on her hat, and Mr. Vinegar put the door on his head and they started.
They walked and walked all day. At night they came to a dark forest where there were many tall trees.
"Here is a good place to lodge," said Mr. Vinegar.
So he climbed a tree and laid the door across some branches. Then Mrs. Vinegar climbed the tree, and the two laid themselves down on the door.
"It is better to have the house under us than over us," said Mr. Vinegar. But Mrs. Vinegar was fast asleep, and did not hear him.
Soon it was pitch dark, and Mr. Vinegar also fell asleep. At midnight he was awakened by hearing a noise below him.
He started up. He listened.
"Here are ten gold pieces for you, Jack," he heard someone say. "And here are ten pieces for you, Bill. I'll keep the rest for myself."
Mr. Vinegar looked down. He saw three men sitting on the ground. A lighted lantern was near them.
"Robbers!" he cried in great fright, and sprang to a higher branch.
As he did this he kicked the door from its resting place. The door fell crashing to the ground, and Mrs. Vinegar fell with it.
The robbers were so badly scared that they took to their heels and ran helter-skelter into the dark woods.
"Are you hurt, my dear?" asked Mr. Vinegar.
"Ah, no!" said his wife. "But who would have thought that the door would tumble down in the night? And here is a beautiful lantern, all lit and burning, to show us where we are."
Mr. Vinegar scrambled to the ground. He picked up the lantern to look at it. But what were those shining things that he saw lying all around?
"Gold pieces! Gold pieces!" he cried. And he picked one up and held it to the light.
"We've found our fortune! We've found our fortune!" cried Mrs. Vinegar. And she jumped up and down for joy.
They gathered up the gold pieces. There were fifty of them, all bright and yellow and round.
"How lucky we are!" said Mr. Vinegar.
"How lucky we are!" said Mrs. Vinegar.
Then they sat down and looked at the gold till morning.
"Now, John," said Mrs. Vinegar, "I'll tell you what we'll do. You must go to the town and buy a cow. I will milk her and churn butter, and we shall never want for anything."
"That is a good plan," said Mr. Vinegar.
So he started off to the town, while his wife waited by the roadside.
Mr. Vinegar walked up and down the street of the town, looking for a cow. After a time a farmer came that way, leading one that was very pretty and fat.
"Oh, if I only had that cow," said Mr. Vinegar, "I would be the happiest man in the world."
"She is a very good cow," said the farmer.
"Well," said Mr. Vinegar, "I will give you these fifty gold pieces for her."
The farmer smiled and held out his hand for the money. "You may have her," he said. "I always like to oblige my friends."
Mr. Vinegar took hold of the cow's halter and led her up and down the street. "I am the luckiest man in the world," he said, "for only see how all the people are looking at me and my cow."
But at one end of the street he met a man playing bagpipes. He stopped and listened. Tweedle-dee, tweedle-dee!
"Oh, that is the sweetest music I ever heard," he said. "And just see how all the children crowd around the man and give him pennies! If I only had those bagpipes, I would be the happiest man in the world."
"I will sell them to you," said the piper.
"Will you? Well then, since I have no money, I will give you this cow for them."
"You may have them," answered the piper. "I always like to oblige a friend."
Mr. Vinegar took the bagpipes, and the piper led the cow away.
"Now we will have some music," said Mr. Vinegar. But try as hard as he might, he could not play a tune. He could get nothing out of the bagpipes but "squeak! squeak!"
The children, instead of giving him pennies, laughed at him. The day was chilly, and, in trying to play the pipes his fingers grew very cold. He wished that he had kept the cow.
He had just started for home when he met a man who had warm gloves on his hands. "Oh, if I only had those pretty gloves," he said, "I would be the happiest man in the world."
"How much will you give for them?" asked the man.
"I have no money, but I will give you these bagpipes," answered Mr. Vinegar.
"Well," said the man, "you may have them, for I always like to oblige a friend."
Mr. Vinegar gave him the bagpipes and drew the gloves on over his half-frozen fingers. "How lucky I am!" he said, as he trudged homeward.
His hands were soon quite warm, but the road was rough and the walking hard. He was very tired when he came to the foot of a steep hill.
"How shall I ever get to the top?" he said.
Just then he met a man who was walking the other way. He had a stick in his hand which he used as a cane to help him along.
"My friend," said Mr. Vinegar, "if I only had that stick of yours to help me up this hill, I would be the happiest man in the world."
"How much will you give me for it?" asked the man.
"I have no money, but I will give you this pair of warm gloves," said Mr. Vinegar.
"Well," said the man, "you may have it, for I always like to oblige a friend."
Mr. Vinegar's hands were now quite warm. So he gave the gloves to the man and took the stout stick to help him along.
"How lucky I am," he said, as he toiled upward.
At the top of the hill he stopped to rest. But as he was thinking of all his good luck that day, he heard someone calling his name. He looked up and saw only a green parrot sitting in a tree.
"Mr. Vinegar! Mr. Vinegar!" it cried.
"What now?" asked Mr. Vinegar.
"You're a dunce! You're a dunce!" answered the bird. "You went to seek your fortune, and you found it. Then you gave it for a cow, and the cow for some bagpipes, and the bagpipes for some gloves, and the gloves for a stick which you might have cut by the roadside. Hee! hee! hee! hee! hee! You're a dunce! You're a dunce!"
This made Mr. Vinegar very angry. He threw the stick at the bird with all his might. But the bird only answered, "You're a dunce! You're a dunce!" and the stick lodged in the tree where he could not get it again.
Mr. Vinegar went on slowly, for he had many things to think about. His wife was standing by the roadside, and as soon as she saw him she cried out, "Where's the cow? Where's the cow?"
"Well, I don't just know where the cow is," said Mr. Vinegar; and then he told her the whole story.
I have heard she said some things he liked even less than what the bird had said, but that is between Mr. and Mrs. Vinegar, and really nobody's business but theirs.
"We are no worse off than we were yesterday," said Mr. Vinegar. "Let us go home and take care of our little old house."
Then he put the door on his head and trudged onward. And Mrs. Vinegar followed him.
The Frogs and the Well
The prudent person looks before leaping.
Two frogs lived together in a marsh. But one hot summer the marsh dried up, and they left it to look for another place to live in, for frogs like damp places if they can get them. By and by they came to a deep well, and one of them looked down into it, and said to the other, "This looks a nice cool place. Let us jump in and settle here." But the other, who had a wiser head on his shoulders, replied, "Not so fast, my friend. Supposing this well dried up like the marsh, how should we get out again?"
Think twice before you act.
The Fisherman and His Wife
Retold by Clifton Johnson
The ancient Greeks had a famous saying: "Nothing overmuch." The maxim calls not for total abstinence, but rather reminds us to avoid excess. We should know that too much of anything, even a good thing, may prove to be our undoing, as this old tale shows. We need to recognize when enough is enough.
There was once a fisherman who lived with his wife in a poor little hut close by the sea. One day, as the fisherman sat on the rocks at the water's edge fishing with his rod and line, a fish got caught on his hook that was so big and pulled so stoutly that he captured it with the greatest difficulty. He was feeling much pleased that he had secured so big a fish when he was surprised by hearing it say to him, "Pray let me live. I am not a real fish. I am a magician. Put me in the water and let me go."
"You need not make so many words about the matter," said the man. "I wish to have nothing to do with a fish that can talk."
Then he removed it from his hook and put it back into the water. "Now swim away as soon as you please," said the man, and the fish darted straight down to the bottom.
The fisherman returned to his little hut and told his wife how he had caught a great fish, and how it had told him it was a magician, and how, when he heard it speak, he had let it go.
"Did you not ask it for anything?" said the wife.
"No," replied the man. "What should I ask for?"
"What should you ask for!" exclaimed the wife. "You talk as if we had everything we want, but see how wretchedly we live in this dark little hut. Do go back and tell the fish we want a comfortable house."
The fisherman did not like to undertake such an errand. However, as his wife had bidden him to go, he went; and when he came to the sea the water looked all yellow and green. He stood on the rocks where he had fished and said,
"Oh, man of the sea!
Come listen to me;
For Alice my wife,
The plague of my life,
Hath sent me to beg a gift of thee!"
Then the fish came swimming to him and said, "Well, what does she want?"
"Ah," answered the fisherman, "my wife says that when I had caught you I ought to have asked you for something before I let you go. She does not like living any longer in our little hut. She wants a comfortable house."
"Go home then," said the fish. "She is in the house she wants already."
So the man went home and found his wife standing in the doorway of a comfortable house, and behind the house was a yard with ducks and chickens picking about in it, and beyond the yard was a garden where grew all sorts of flowers and fruits. "How happily we shall live now!" said the fisherman.
Everything went right for a week or two, and then the wife said, "Husband, there is not enough room in this house, and the yard and garden are a great deal smaller than they ought to be. I would like to have a large stone castle to live in. So go to the fish again and tell him to give us a castle."
"Wife," said the fisherman, "I don't like to go to him again, for perhaps he will be angry. We ought to be content with a good house like this."
"Nonsense!" said the wife. "He will give us a castle very willingly. Go along and try."
The fisherman went, but his heart was heavy, and when he came to the sea the water was a dark gray color and looked very gloomy. He stood on the rocks at the water's edge and said,
"Oh, man of the sea!
Come listen to me;
For Alice my wife,
The plague of my life,
Hath sent me to beg a gift of thee!"
Then the fish came swimming to him and said, "Well, what does she want now?"
"Ah," replied the man very sorrowfully, "my wife wants to live in a stone castle."
"Go home then," said the fish. "She is at the castle already."
So away went the fisherman and found his wife standing before a great castle. "See," said she, "is not this fine?"
They went into the castle, and many servants were there, and the rooms were richly furnished with handsome chairs and tables; and behind the castle was a park half a mile long, full of sheep and goats and rabbits and deer.
"Now," said the man, "we will live contented and happy in this beautiful castle for the rest of our lives."
"Perhaps so," responded the wife. "But let us consider and sleep on it before we make up our minds." And they went to bed.
The next morning when they awoke it was broad daylight, and the wife jogged the fisherman with her elbow and said, "Get up, husband; bestir yourself, for we must be king and queen of all the land."
"Wife, wife," said the man, "'why should we wish to be king and queen? I would not be king even if I could be."
"Well, I will be queen, anyway," said the wife. "Say no more about it; but go to the fish and tell him what I want."
So the man went, but he felt very sad to think that his wife should want to be queen. The sea was muddy and streaked with foam as he cried out,
"Oh, man of the sea!
Come listen to me;
For Alice my wife,
The plague of my life,
Hath sent me to beg a gift of thee!"
Then the fish came swimming to him and said, "Well, what would she have now?"
"Alas!" said the man. "My wife wants to be queen."
"Go home," said the fish. "She is queen already."
So the fisherman turned back and presently he came to a palace, and before it he saw a troop of soldiers, and he heard the sound of drums and trumpets. Then he entered the palace and there he found his wife sitting on a throne, with a golden crown on her head, and on each side of her stood six beautiful maidens.
"Well, wife," said the fisherman, "are you queen?"
"Yes," she replied, "I am queen."
When he had looked at her for a long time he said, "Ah, wife, what a fine thing it is to be queen! Now we shall never have anything more to wish for."
"I don't know how that may be," said she. "Never is a long time. I am queen, 'tis true, but I begin to be tired of it. I think I would like to be pope next."
"Oh, wife, wife!" the man exclaimed. "How can you be pope? There is but one pope at a time in all Christendom."
"Husband," said she, "I will be pope this very day."
"Ah, wife!" responded the fisherman. "The fish cannot make you pope and I would not like to ask for such a thing."
"What nonsense!" said she. "If he can make a queen, he can make a pope. Go and try."
So the fisherman went, and when he came to the shore the wind was raging and the waves were dashing on the rocks most fearfully, and the sky was dark with flying clouds. The fisherman was frightened, but nevertheless he obeyed his wife and called out,
"Oh, man of the sea!
Come listen to me;
For Alice my wife,
The plague of my life,
Hath sent me to beg a gift of thee!"
Then the fish came swimming to him and said, "What does she want this time?"
"Ah," said the fisherman, "my wife wants to be pope."
"Go home," commanded the fish. "She is pope already."
So the fisherman went home and found his wife sitting on a throne that was a hundred feet high, and on either side many candles of all sizes were burning, and she had three great crowns on her head one above the other and was surrounded by all the pomp and power of the church.
"Wife," said the fisherman, as he gazed at all this magnificence, "are you pope?"
"Yes," she replied, "I am pope."
"Well, wife," said he, "it is a grand thing to be pope. And now you must be content, for you can be nothing greater."
"We will see about that," she said.
Then they went to bed; but the wife could not sleep because all night long she was trying to think what she should be next. At last morning came and the sun rose. "Ha!" cried she. "I was about to sleep, had not the sun disturbed me with its bright light. Cannot I prevent the sun rising?" and she became very angry and said to her husband, "Go to the fish and tell him I want to be lord of the sun and moon."
"Alas, wife," said he, "can you not be content to be pope?"
"No," said she, "I am very uneasy, and cannot bear to see the sun and moon rise without my leave. Go to the fish at once!"
The man went, and as he approached the shore a dreadful storm arose so that the trees and rocks shook, and the sky grew black, and the lightning flashed, and the thunder rolled, and the sea was covered with vast waves like mountains. The fisherman trembled so that his knees knocked together, and he had hardly strength to stand in the gale while he called to the fish:
"Oh, man of the sea!
Come listen to me;
For Alice my wife,
The plague of my life,
Hath sent me to beg a gift of thee!"
Then the fish came swimming to him and said, "What more does she want?"
"Ah," said the man, "she wants to be lord of the sun and moon."
"Go home to your hut again," said the fish.
So the man returned, and the palace was gone, and in its place he found the dark little hut that had formerly been his dwelling, and he and his wife have lived in that little hut to this very day.
The Magic Thread
Too often, people want what they want (or what they think they want, which is usually "happiness" in one form or another) right now. The irony of their impatience is that only by learning to wait, and by a willingness to accept the bad with the good, do we usually attain those things that are truly worthwhile. "He that can have patience, can have what he will," Benjamin Franklin told us, and this French tale bears him out.
Once there was a widow who had a son called Peter. He was a strong, able boy, but he did not enjoy going to school and he was forever daydreaming.
"Peter, what are you dreaming about this time?" his teacher would say to him.
"I'm thinking about what I'll be when I grow up," Peter replied.
"Be patient. There's plenty of time for that. Being grown up isn't all fun, you know," his teacher said.
But Peter found it hard to enjoy whatever he was doing at the moment, and was always hankering after the next thing. In winter he longed for it to be summer again, and in summer he looked forward to the skating, sledging, and warm fires of winter. At school he would long for the day to be over so that he could go home, and on Sunday nights he would sigh, "If only the holidays would come." What he enjoyed most was playing with his friend Liese. She was as good a companion as any boy, and no matter how impatient Peter was, she never took offense. "When I grow up, I shall marry Liese," Peter said to himself.
Often he wandered through the forest, dreaming of the future. Sometimes he lay down on the soft forest floor in the warm sun, his hands behind his head, staring up at the sky through the distant treetops. One hot afternoon as he began to grow sleepy, he heard someone calling his name. He opened his eyes and sat up. Standing before him was an old woman. In her hand she held a silver ball, from which dangled a silken golden thread.
"See what I have got here, Peter," she said, offering the ball to him.
"What is it?" he asked curiously, touching the fine golden thread.
"This is your life thread," the old woman replied. "Do not touch it and time will pass normally. But if you wish time to pass more quickly, you have only to pull the thread a little way and an hour will pass like a second. But I warn you, once the thread has been pulled out, it cannot be pushed back in again. It will disappear like a puff of smoke. The ball is for you. But if you accept my gift you must tell no one, or on that very day you shall die. Now, say, do you want it?"
Peter seized the gift from her joyfully. It was just what he wanted. He examined the silver ball. It was light and solid, made of a single piece. The only flaw in it was the tiny hole from which the bright thread hung. He put the ball in his pocket and ran home. There, making sure that his mother was out, he examined it again. The thread seemed to be creeping very slowly out of the ball, so slowly that it was scarcely noticeable to the naked eye. He longed to give it a quick tug, but dared not do so. Not yet.
The following day at school, Peter sat daydreaming about what he would do with his magic thread. The teacher scolded him for not concentrating on his work. If only, he thought, it was time to go home. Then he felt the silver ball in his pocket. If he pulled out a tiny bit of thread, the day would be over. Very carefully he took hold of it and tugged. Suddenly the teacher was telling everyone to pack up their books and to leave the classroom in an orderly fashion. Peter was overjoyed. He ran all the way home. How easy life would be now! All his troubles were over. From that day forth he began to pull the thread, just a little, every day.
One day, however, it occurred to him that it was stupid to pull the thread just a little each day. If he gave it a harder tug, school would be over altogether. Then he could start learning a trade and marry Liese. So that night he gave the thread a hard tug, and in the morning he awoke to find himself apprenticed to a carpenter in town. He loved his new life, clambering about on roofs and scaffolding, lifting and hammering great beams into place that still smelled of the forest. But sometimes, when payday seemed too far off, he gave the thread a little tug and suddenly the week was drawing to a close and it was Friday night and he had money in his pocket.
Liese had also come to town and was living with her aunt, who taught her housekeeping. Peter began to grow impatient for the day when they would be married. It was hard to live so near and yet so far from her. He asked her when they could be married.
"In another year," she said. "Then I will have learned how to be a capable wife."
Peter fingered the silver ball in his pocket.
"Well, the time will pass quickly enough," he said, knowingly.
That night Peter could not sleep. He tossed and turned restlessly. He took the magic ball from under his pillow. For a moment he hesitated; then his impatience got the better of him, and he tugged at the golden thread. In the morning he awoke to find that the year was over and that Liese had at last agreed to marry him. Now Peter felt truly happy.
But before their wedding could take place, Peter received an official-looking letter. He opened it in trepidation and read that he was expected to report at the army barracks the following week for two years' military service. He showed the letter to Liese in despair.
"Well," she said, "there is nothing for it, we shall just have to wait. But the time will pass quickly, you'll see. There are so many things to do in preparation for our life together."
Peter smiled bravely, knowing that two years would seem a lifetime to him.
Once Peter had settled into life at the barracks, however, he began to feel that it wasn't so bad after all. He quite enjoyed being with all the other young men, and their duties were not very arduous at first. He remembered the old woman's warning to use the thread wisely and for a while refrained from pulling it. But in time he grew restless again. Army life bored him with its routine duties and harsh discipline. He began pulling the thread to make the week go faster so that it would be Sunday again, or to speed up the time until he was due for leave. And so the two years passed almost as if they had been a dream.
Back home, Peter determined not to pull the thread again until it was absolutely necessary. After all, this was the best time of his life, as everyone told him. He did not want it to be over too quickly. He did, however, give the thread one or two very small tugs, just to speed along the day of his marriage. He longed to tell Liese his secret, but he knew that if he did he would die.
On the day of his wedding, everyone, including Peter, was happy. He could hardly wait to show Liese the house he had built for her. At the wedding feast he glanced over at his mother. He noticed for the first time how gray her hair had grown recently. She seemed to be aging so quickly. Peter felt a pang of guilt that he had pulled the thread so often. Henceforward he would be much more sparing with it and only use it when it was strictly necessary.
A few months later Liese announced that she was going to have a child. Peter was overjoyed and could hardly wait. When the child was born, he felt that he could never want for anything again. But whenever the child was ill or cried through the sleepless night, he gave the thread a little tug, just so that the baby might be well and happy again.
Times were hard. Business was bad and a government had come to power that squeezed the people dry with taxes and would tolerate no opposition. Anyone who became known as a troublemaker was thrown into prison without trial and rumor was enough to condemn a man. Peter had always been known as one who spoke his mind, and very soon he was arrested and cast into jail. Luckily he had his magic ball with him and he tugged very hard at the thread. The prison walls dissolved before him and his enemies were scattered in the huge explosion that burst forth like thunder. It was the war that had been threatening, but it was over as quickly as a summer storm, leaving behind it an exhausted peace. Peter found himself back home with his family. But now he was a middle-aged man.
For a time things went well and Peter lived in relative contentment. One day he looked at his magic ball and saw to his surprise that the thread had turned from gold to silver. He looked in the mirror. His hair was starting to turn gray and his face was lined where before there had not been a wrinkle to be seen. He suddenly felt afraid and determined to use the thread even more carefully than before. Liese bore him more children and he seemed happy as the head of his growing household. His stately manner often made people think of him as some sort of benevolent ruler. He had an air of authority as if he held the fate of others in his hands. He kept his magic ball in a well-hidden place, safe from the curious eyes of his children, knowing that if anyone were to discover it, it would be fatal.
As the number of his children grew, so his house became more overcrowded. He would have to extend it, but for that he needed money. He had other worries too. His mother was looking older and more tired every day. It was of no use to pull the magic thread because that would only hasten her approaching death. All too soon she died, and as Peter stood at her graveside, he wondered how it was that life passed so quickly, even without pulling the magic thread.
One night as he lay in bed, kept awake by his worries, he thought how much easier life would be if all his children were grown up and launched upon their careers in life. He gave the thread a mighty tug, and the following day he awoke to find that his children had all left home for jobs in different parts of the country, and that he and his wife were alone. His hair was almost white now and often his back and limbs ached as he climbed the ladder or lifted a heavy beam into place. Liese too was getting old and she was often ill. He couldn't bear to see her suffer, so that more and more he resorted to pulling at the magic thread. But as soon as one trouble was solved, another seemed to grow in its place. Perhaps life would be easier if he retired, Peter thought. Then he would no longer have to clamber about on drafty, half-completed buildings and he could look after Liese when she was ill. The trouble was that he didn't have enough money to live on. He picked up his magic ball and looked at it. To his dismay he saw that the thread was no longer silver but gray and lusterless. He decided to go for a walk in the forest to think things over.
It was a long time since he had been in that part of the forest. The small saplings had all grown into tall fir trees, and it was hard to find the path he had once known. Eventually he came to a bench in a clearing. He sat down to rest and fell into a light doze. He was woken by someone calling his name, "Peter! Peter!"
He looked up and saw the old woman he had met so many years ago when she had given him the magic silver ball with its golden thread. She looked just as she had on that day, not a day older. She smiled at him.
"So, Peter, have you had a good life?" she asked.
"I'm not sure," Peter said. "Your magic ball is a wonderful thing. I have never had to suffer or wait for anything in my life. And yet it has all passed so quickly. I feel that I have had no time to take in what has happened to me, neither the good things nor the bad. Now there is so little time left. I dare not pull the thread again for it will only bring me to my death. I do not think your gift has brought me luck."
"How ungrateful you are!" the old woman said. "In what way would you have wished things to be different?"
"Perhaps if you had given me a different ball, one where I could have pushed the thread back in as well as pulling it out. Then I could have relived the things that went badly."
The old woman laughed. "You ask a great deal! Do you think that God allows us to live our lives twice over? But I can grant you one final wish, you foolish, demanding man."
"What is that?" Peter asked.
"Choose," the old woman said. Peter thought hard.
At length he said, "I should like to live my life again as if for the first time, but without your magic ball. Then I will experience the bad things as well as the good without cutting them short, and at least my life will not pass as swiftly and meaninglessly as a daydream."
"So be it," said the old woman. "Give me back my ball."
She stretched out her hand and Peter placed the silver ball in it. Then he sat back and closed his eyes with exhaustion.
When he awoke he was in his own bed. His youthful mother was bending over him, shaking him gently.
"Wake up, Peter. You will be late for school. You were sleeping like the dead!"
He looked up at her in surprise and relief.
"I've had a terrible dream, Mother. I dreamed that I was old and sick and that my life had passed like the blinking of an eye with nothing to show for it. Not even any memories."
His mother laughed and shook her head.
"That will never happen," she said. "Memories are the one thing we all have, even when we are old. Now hurry and get dressed. Liese is waiting for you and you will be late for school."
As Peter walked to school with Liese, he noticed what a bright summer morning it was, the kind of morning when it felt good to be alive. Soon he would see his friends and classmates, and even the prospect of lessons didn't seem so bad. In fact he could hardly wait.
The Golden Touch
Adapted from Nathaniel Hawthorne
This retelling of the famous Greek tale about lust for gold is adapted from Nathaniel Hawthorne's version in his Wonder Book. The Midas of mythology is usually identified by scholars with a king of ancient Phrygia (now Turkey) who ruled in the eighth century B.C. The early Greeks believed Phrygia to be a land of fabulous wealth.
Once upon a time there lived a very rich king whose name was Midas. He had more gold than anyone in the whole world, but for all that, he thought it was not enough. He was never so happy as when he happened to get more gold to add to his treasure. He stored it away in great vaults underneath his palace, and many hours of each day were spent counting it over.
Now King Midas had a little daughter named Marygold. He loved her devotedly, and said: "She shall be the richest princess in all the world!"
But little Marygold cared nothing about it all. She loved her garden, her flowers and the golden sunshine more than all her father's riches. She was a lonely little girl most of the time, for her father was so busy planning new ways to get more gold, and counting what he had, that he seldom told her stories or went for walks with her, as all fathers should do.
One day King Midas was down in his treasure room. He had locked the heavy doors and had opened up his great chests of gold. He piled it on the table and handled it as if he loved the touch of it. He let it slip through his fingers and smiled at the clink of it as if it had been sweet music. Suddenly a shadow fell over the heap of gold. Looking up, he saw a stranger dressed in shining white smiling down at him. King Midas started up in surprise. Surely he had not failed to lock the door! His treasure was not safe! But the stranger continued to smile.
"You have much gold, King Midas," he said.
"Yes," said the king, "but think how little this is to all the gold there is in the world!"
"What! Are you not satisfied?" asked the stranger.
"Satisfied?" said the king. "Of course I'm not. I often lie awake through the long night planning new ways to get more gold. I wish that everything I touch would turn to gold."
"Do you really wish that, King Midas?"
"Of course I wish it. Nothing could make me so happy."
"Then you shall have your wish. Tomorrow morning when the first rays of the sun fall through your window you shall have the golden touch."
When he had finished speaking, the stranger vanished. King Midas rubbed his eyes. "I must have dreamed it," he said, "but how happy I should be if it were only true!"
The next morning King Midas woke when the first faint light came into his room. He put out his hand and touched the covers of his bed. Nothing happened. "I knew it could not be true," he sighed. Just at that moment the first rays of the sun came through the window. The covers on which King Midas's hand lay became pure gold. "It's true, it's true!" he cried joyfully.
He sprang out of bed and ran about the room touching everything. His dressing gown, his slippers, the furniture, all became gold. He looked out of the window through Marygold's garden. "I'll give her a nice surprise," he said. He went down into the garden touching all of Marygold's flowers, and changing them to gold. "She will be so pleased," he thought.
He went back into his room to wait for his breakfast; and took up his book which he had been reading the night before, but the minute he touched it, it was solid gold. "I can't read it now," he said, "but of course it is far better to have it gold."
Just then a servant came through the door with the king's breakfast. "How good it looks," he said. "I'll have that ripe, red peach first of all."
He took the peach in his hand, but before he could taste it, it became a lump of gold. King Midas put it back on the plate. "It's very beautiful, but I can't eat it!" he said. He took a roll from the plate, but that, too, became gold. He took a glass of water in his hand, but that, too, became gold. "What shall I do?" he cried. "I am hungry and thirsty, I can't eat or drink gold!"
At that moment the door was opened and in came little Mary-gold. She was crying bitterly, and in her hand was one of her roses.
"What's the matter, little daughter?" said the king.
"Oh, Father! See what has happened to all my roses! They are stiff, ugly things!"
"Why, they are golden roses, child. Do you not think they are more beautiful than they were?"
"No," she sobbed, "they do not smell sweet. They won't grow anymore. I like roses that are alive."
"Never mind," said the king, "eat your breakfast now."
But Marygold noticed that her father did not eat, and that he looked very sad. "What is the matter, Father dear?" she said, and she ran over to him. She threw her arms about him, and he kissed her. But he suddenly cried out in terror and anguish. When he touched her, her lovely little face became glittering gold, her eyes could not see, her lips could not kiss him back again, her little arms could not hold him close. She was no longer a loving, laughing little girl; she was changed to a little golden statue.
King Midas bowed his head and great sobs shook him.
"Are you happy, King Midas?" he heard a voice say. Looking up he saw the stranger standing near him.
"Happy! How can you ask? I am the most miserable man living!" said the king.
"You have the golden touch," said the stranger. "Is that not enough?"
King Midas did not look up or answer.
"Which would you rather have, food and a cup of cold water or these lumps of gold?" said the stranger.
King Midas could not answer.
"Which would you rather have, O King that little golden statue, or a little girl who could run, and laugh, and love you?"
"Oh, give me back my little Marygold and I'll give up all the gold I have!" said the king. "I've lost all that was worth having."
"You are wiser than you were, King Midas," said the stranger. "Go plunge in the river which runs at the foot of your garden, then take some of its water and sprinkle whatever you wish to change back as it was." The stranger vanished.
King Midas sprang up and ran to the river. He plunged into it, and then he dipped up a pitcher of its water and hurried back to the palace. He sprinkled it over Marygold, and the color came back into her cheeks. She opened her blue eyes again. "Why, Father!" she said. "What happened?"
With a cry of joy King Midas took her into his arms.
Never after that did King Midas care for any gold except the gold of the sunshine, and the gold of little Marygold's hair.
The Fox and the Crow
Vanity is largely a matter of self-control, or lack thereof. Others may try to feed our ego, but it is up to us to constrain it.
A coal-black crow once stole a piece of meat. She flew to a tree and held the meat in her beak.
A fox, who saw her, wanted the meat for himself, so he looked up into the tree and said, "How beautiful you are, my friend! Your feathers are fairer than the dove's.
"Is your voice as sweet as your form is beautiful? If so, you must be the queen of birds."
The crow was so happy in his praise that she opened her mouth to show how she could sing. Down fell the piece of meat.
The fox seized upon it and ran away.
King Canute on the Seashore
Adapted from James Baldwin
Canute the Second, who reigned during the eleventh century, was the first Danish king of England. In this famous tale, he proves to be a man who knows how to control his pride. It is a good lesson for all who aspire to high office.
Long ago, England was ruled by a king named Canute. Like many leaders and men of power, Canute was surrounded by people who were always praising him. Every time he walked into a room, the flattery began.
"You are the greatest man that ever lived," one would say.
"O king, there can never be another as mighty as you," another would insist.
"Your highness, there is nothing you cannot do," someone would smile.
"Great Canute, you are the monarch of all," another would sing. "Nothing in this world dares to disobey you."
The king was a man of sense, and he grew tired of hearing such foolish speeches.
One day he was walking by the seashore, and his officers and courtiers were with him, praising him as usual. Canute decided to teach them a lesson.
"So you say I am the greatest man in the world?" he asked them.
"O king," they cried, "there never has been anyone as mighty as you, and there never will be anyone so great, ever again!"
"And you say all things obey me?" Canute asked.
"Absolutely!" they said. "The world bows before you, and gives you honor."
"I see," the king answered. "In that case, bring me my chair, and we will go down to the water."
"At once, your majesty!" They scrambled to carry his royal chair over the sands.
"Bring it closer to the sea," Canute called. "Put it right here, fight at the water's edge." He sat down and surveyed the ocean before him. "I notice the tide is coming in. Do you think it will stop if I give the command?"
His officers were puzzled, but they did not dare say no. "Give the order, O great king, and it will obey," one of them assured him.
"Very well. Sea," cried Canute, "I command you to come no further! Waves, stop your rolling! Surf, stop your pounding! Do not dare touch my feet!"
He waited a moment, quietly, and a tiny wave rushed up the sand and lapped at his feet.
"How dare you!" Canute shouted. "Ocean, turn back now! I have ordered you to retreat before me, and now you must obey! Go back!"
And in answer another wave swept forward and curled around the king's feet. The tide came in, just as it always did. The water rose higher and higher. It came up around the king's chair, and wet not only his feet, but also his robe. His officers stood about him, alarmed, and wondering whether he was not mad.
"Well, my friends," Canute said, "it seems I do not have quite so much power as you would have me believe. Perhaps you have learned something today. Perhaps now you will remember there is only one King who is all-powerful, and it is he who rules the sea, and holds the ocean in the hollow of his hand. I suggest you reserve your praises for him."
The royal officers and courtiers hung their heads and looked foolish. And some say Canute took off his crown soon afterward, and never wore it again.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Ozymandias is the Greek name for the Egyptian King Rameses the Second, who ruled about 1290 to 1223 B.C. and carried out (or took credit for) many great construction projects. The colossal stone head of a statue of Rameses lies on the ground at his mortuary temple in western Thebes, and the ancient Greek historian Diodorus Siculus described a funeral temple bearing an inscription much like the lines in Shelley's poem. Remembering Ozymandias is a great way to control our vanity, especially as we climb the ladder of success. It makes a striking contrast with the story of King Canute.
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of
stone Stand in the desert...Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Adapted from Thomas Bulfinch
The feeling of youth, Joseph Conrad said, is the feeling of being able to "last forever, outlast the sea, the earth, and all men." Somehow, as we all know from having been there, youth cannot recognize the illusion of invincibility. Here is one of Ovid's grandest stories. It tells of the rashness of youth and reminds us of the need for the governing prudence of parents.
Phaeton was the son of Phoebus Apollo and the nymph Clymene. One day a schoolfellow laughed at the idea of his being the offspring of a god, and Phaeton went in rage and shame to his mother.
"If I am indeed of heavenly birth," he said, "give me some proof of it."
"Go and ask your father yourself," Clymene replied. "It will not be hard. The land of the Sun lies next to ours."
Full of hope and pride, Phaeton traveled to the regions of the sunrise. The palace of the Sun stood reared on lofty columns, glittering with gold and precious stones, while polished ivory formed the ceilings, and silver the doors. Upon the walls Vulcan had represented earth, sea, and skies with their inhabitants. In the sea were the nymphs, some sporting in the waves, some riding on the backs of fishes, while others sat upon the rocks and dried their sea-green hair. The earth had its towns and forests and rivers and rustic divinities. Over all was carved the likeness of the glorious heaven, and on the silver doors were the twelve signs of the zodiac, six on each side.
Clymene's son climbed the steep ascent and entered the halls of his father. He approached the chamber of the Sun, but stopped at a distance, for the light was more than he could bear. Phoebus, arrayed in a purple vesture, sat on a throne, which glittered as with diamonds. On his right hand and his left stood the Day, the Month, and the Year, and, at regular intervals, the Hours. Spring stood with her head crowned with flowers. Summer stood with garment cast aside and a garland formed of spears of ripened grain. And there too were Autumn, her feet stained with grape juice, and icy Winter, his hair stiffened with hoarfrost.
Surrounded by these attendants, the Sun, with the eye that sees everything, beheld the youth dazzled with the novelty and splendor of the scene.
"What is the purpose of your errand?" he asked.
"Oh light of the boundless world," the youth replied, "I beseech you, give me some proof that I am indeed your son."
He ceased, and his father, laying aside the beams that shone all around his head, bade him approach.
"You are my son," he said, embracing him. "What your mother has told you is true. To put an end to your doubts, ask what you will, and the gift shall be yours. I call to witness the dreadful river Styx, which we gods swear by in our most solemn engagements."
Many times Phaeton had watched the Sun riding across the sky, and he had dreamed of what it would be like to drive his father's chariot, urging the winged horses along their heavenly course. Now he realized his dream could come true.
"I want to take your place for a day, Father," he cried at once. "Just for one day, I want to drive your chariot across the sky and bring light to the world."
Instantly the Sun realized the foolishness of his promise, and he shook his radiant head in warning. "I have spoken rashly," he said. "This is the only request I would deny, and I beg you to withdraw it. You ask for-something not suited to your youth and strength, my son. Your lot is mortal, and you ask what is beyond a mortal's power. In your ignorance, you aspire to do what even the other gods themselves may not do. None but myself may drive the flaming car of Day. Not even Jupiter, whose terrible right arm hurls the thunderbolts, would try it.
"The first part of the way is steep," the Sun continued, "so steep that even when the horses are fresh in the morning, they can hardly make the climb. The middle part of the journey takes me high up in the heavens, and I can scarcely look down without alarm and behold the earth and sea stretched beneath me. The last part of the road descends rapidly, and requires the most careful driving. Tethys, the Ocean's wife, who is waiting to receive me, often trembles for me lest I should fall headlong. Add to all this, the heaven is all the time turning round and carrying the stars with it. I have to be perpetually on my guard lest that movement, which sweeps everything else along, should also hurry me away.
"Suppose I should lend you the chariot. What would you do? Could you keep your course while the sphere was revolving under you? Perhaps you think there are forests and cities, the abodes of gods, and palaces and temples along the way. On the contrary, the road runs through the midst of frightening monsters. You pass by the horns of the Bull, in front of the Archer, and near the Lion's jaws, and where the Scorpion stretches its arms in one direction and the Crab in another. Nor will you find it easy to guide those horses, who snort fire from their mouths and nostrils. I can scarcely govern them myself when they resist the reins.
"Beware, my son, lest I be the donor of a fatal gift. Recall your request while yet you may. Do you want proof that you are sprung from my blood? I give you proof in my fears for you. Look at my face I would that you could look into my heart, and there you would see a father's cares.
"Look about you, and ask for anything from all the riches of the earth or sea. Ask and you shall have it! But I beg you not to ask this one thing. It is destruction, not honor, you seek. You shall have it if you persist. I swore the oath, and it must be kept. But I beg you to choose more wisely."
He ended, but his warning did no good, and Phaeton held to his demand. So, having resisted as long as he could, Phoebus at last led the way to where the lofty chariot stood. Its wheels were made of gold, its spokes of silver. Along the yoke every kind of jewel reflected the brightness of the sun. While the boy gazed in admiration, the early Dawn threw open the purple doors of the east, and showed the pathway strewn with roses.
Phoebus, when he saw the Earth beginning to glow, and the Moon preparing to retire, ordered the Hours to harness the horses. They obeyed, and led the steeds from the lofty stalls, well fed with rich ambrosia. Then the Sun rubbed his son's face with a magic lotion which made him able to endure the brightness of the flame. He placed the crown of rays on his head and sighed.
"If you insist on doing this," he said, "at least heed my advice. Spare the whip and hold the reins tight. The steeds need no urging, but you must labor to hold them back. Do not take the straight road through the five circles of Heaven, but turn off to the left. Avoid the northern and southern zones, but keep within the limit of the middle one. You will see the marks of the wheels, and they will guide you. The sky and the earth both need their due share of heat, so do not go too high, or you will burn the heavenly dwellings, nor too low, or you will set the earth on fire. The middle course is the safest and best.
"Now I leave you to Fortune, who I hope will plan better for you than you have for yourself. Night is passing out of the western gates, and we can delay no longer. Take the reins. Or better yet, take my counsel and let me bring light to the world while you stay here and watch in safety."
But even as he was speaking, the boy sprang into the chariot, stood erect, and grasped the reins with delight, pouring out thanks to his reluctant parent. The horses filled the air with their fiery snortings and stamped the ground impatiently. The barriers were let down, and suddenly the boundless plain of the universe lay open before them. They darted forward and sliced through the clouds, into the winds from the east.
It wasn't long before the steeds sensed that the load they drew was lighter than usual. As a ship without ballast careens and rolls off course on the sea, so the chariot was dashed about as if empty. The horses rushed headlong and left the traveled road. Phaeton began to panic. He had no idea which way to turn the reins, and even if he knew, he had not the strength. Then, for the first time, the Big Bear and the Little Bear were scorched with heat, and would have plunged into the water if possible. The Serpent, which lies coiled around the pole, torpid and harmless in the chill of the heavens, grew hot and writhed in angry fury.
When the unhappy Phaeton looked down upon the earth, now spreading in the vast expanse beneath him, he grew pale, and his knees shook with terror. In spite of the glare all around him, the sight of his eyes grew dim. He wished he had never touched his father's horses. He was borne along like a vessel driven before a storm, when the pilot can do no more than pray. Much of the heavenly road was behind him, but much more still lay ahead. He found himself stunned and dazed, and did not know whether to hold the reins or drop them. He forgot the names of the horses. He was horrified at the sight of the monstrous forms scattered across the heaven. The Scorpion, for instance, reached forward with its two great claws, while its poisonous stinger stretched behind. Phaeton's courage failed, and the reins fell from his hands.
The horses, when they felt the reins loose on their backs, dashed headlong into the unknown regions of the sky. They raced among the stars, hurling the chariot over pathless places, now up in the high heaven, now down almost to earth. The Moon saw with astonishment her brother's chariot running beneath her own. The clouds began to smoke, and the mountain tops caught fire. Fields grew parched with heat, plants withered, and harvests went up in flames. Cities perished, with their walls and towers, and whole nations turned to ashes.
Phaeton beheld the world on fire, and felt the intolerable heat. The air was like the blast of a furnace, full of soot and sparks. The chariot glowed white-hot and veered one way, then another. Forests turned to deserts, rivers ran dry, and the earth cracked open. The sea shrank and threatened to become a dry plain. Three times Neptune tried to raise his head above the surface, and three times he was driven back by the fiery heat.
Then Earth, amid the smoking waters, screening her face with her hand, looked up to heaven, and in a trembling voice called on Jupiter.
"O ruler of the gods," she cried, "if I have deserved this treatment, and it is your will that I perish with fire, why withhold your thunderbolts? Let me at least fall by your hand. Is this the reward of my fertility? Is it for this that I have given fodder for cattle, and fruits for men, and incense for your altars? And what has my brother Ocean done to deserve such a fate? And look at your own skies. The very poles are smoking, and if they topple, your palace will fall. If sea, earth, and heaven perish, we fall into ancient Chaos. Save what remains from the devouring flame. Take thought, and deliver us from this awful moment!"
And overcome with heat and thirst, Earth could say no more. But Jupiter heard her, and saw that all things would perish if he did not quickly help. He climbed the highest tower of heaven, where often he had spread clouds over the world and hurled his mighty thunder. He brandished a lightning bolt in his hand, and flung it at the charioteer. At once the car exploded. The mad horses broke the reins, the wheels shattered, and the wreckage scattered across the stars.
And Phaeton, his hair on fire, fell like a shooting star. He was dead long before he left the sky. A river god received him and cooled his burning frame.
George Washington's Rules of Civility
In the late nineteenth century, a school notebook entitled "Forms of Writing" was discovered at Mount Vernon, Virginia, George Washington's plantation home on the Potomac River. The notebook apparently dates from about 1745, when George was fourteen years old and attending school in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Inside, in George's own handwriting, we find the foundation of a solid character education for an eighteenth-century youth: some 110 "Rules of Civility in Conversation Amongst Men." Historical research has shown that young George probably copied them from a 1664 English translation of an even older French work. Most of the rules are still delightfully applicable as a modern code of personal conduct. On the assumption that what was good enough for the first president of the United States is good enough for the rest of us, here are fifty-four of George Washington's "Rules of Civility."
1. Every action in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those present.
2. In the presence of others sing not to yourself with a humming voice, nor drum with your fingers or feet.
3. Speak not when others speak, sit not when others stand, and walk not when others stop.
4. Turn not your back to others, especially in speaking; jog not the table or desk on which another reads or writes; lean not on anyone.
5. Be no flatterer, neither play with anyone that delights not to be played with.
6. Read no letters, books, or papers in company; but when there is a necessity for doing it, you must ask leave. Come not near the books or writings of anyone so as to read them unasked; also look not nigh when another is writing a letter.
7. Let your countenance be pleasant, but in serious matters somewhat grave.
8. Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another, though he were your enemy.
9. They that are in dignity or office have in all places precedency, but whilst they are young, they ought to respect those that are their equals in birth or other qualities, though they have no public charge.
10. It is good manners to prefer them to whom we speak before ourselves, especially if they be above us, with whom in no sort we ought to begin.
11. Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.
12. In visiting the sick do not presently play the physician if you be not knowing therein.
13. In writing or speaking give to every person his due title according to his degree and the custom of the place.
14. Strive not with your superiors in argument, but always submit your judgment to others with modesty.
15. Undertake not to teach your equal in the art he himself professes; it savors of arrogancy.
16. When a man does all he can, though it succeeds not well, blame not him that did it.
17. Being to advise or reprehend anyone, consider whether it ought to be in public or in private, presently or at some other time, also in what terms to do it; and in reproving show no signs of choler, but do it with sweetness and mildness.
18. Mock not nor jest at anything of importance; break no jests that are sharp or biting; and if you deliver anything witty or pleasant, abstain from laughing thereat yourself.
19. Wherein you reprove another be unblamable yourself, for example is more prevalent than precept.
20. Use no reproachful language against anyone, neither curses nor revilings.
21. Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of anyone.
22. In your apparel be modest, and endeavor to accommodate nature rather than procure admiration. Keep to the fashion of your equals, such as are civil and orderly with respect to time and place.
23. Play not the peacock, looking everywhere about you to see if you be well decked, if your shoes fit well, if your stockings set neatly and clothes handsomely.
24. Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation, for it is better to be alone than in bad company.
25. Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for it is a sign of tractable and commendable nature; and in all causes of passion admit reason to govern.
26. Be not immodest in urging your friend to discover a secret.
27. Utter not base and frivolous things amongst grown and learned men, nor very difficult questions or subjects amongst the ignorant, nor things hard to be believed.
28. Speak not of doleful things in time of mirth nor at the table; speak not of melancholy things, as death and wounds; and if others mention them, change, if you can, the discourse. Tell not your dreams but to your intimate friends.
29. Break not a jest when none take pleasure in mirth. Laugh not aloud, nor at all without occasion. Deride no man's misfortunes, though there seem to be some cause.
30. Speak not injurious words, neither in jest or earnest. Scoff at none, although they give occasion.
31. Be not forward, but friendly and courteous, the first to salute, hear and answer, and be not pensive when it is time to converse.
32. Detract not from others, but neither be excessive in commending.
33. Go not thither where you know not whether you shall be welcome or not. Give not advice without being asked; and when desired, do it briefly.
34. If two contend together, take not the part of either unconstrained, and be not obstinate in your opinion; in things indifferent be of the major side.
35. Reprehend not the imperfection of others, for that belongs to parents, masters, and superiors.
36. Gaze not on the marks or blemishes of others, and ask not how they came. What you may speak in secret to your friend deliver not before others.
37. Speak not in an unknown tongue in company, but in your own language; and that as those of quality do, and not as the vulgar. Sublime matters treat seriously.
38. Think before you speak; pronounce not imperfectly, nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly.
39. When another speaks, be attentive yourself, and disturb not the audience. If any hesitate in his words, help him not, nor prompt him without being desired; interrupt him not, nor answer him till his speech be ended.
40. Treat with men at fit times about business, and whisper not in the company of others.
41. Make no comparisons; and if any of the company be commended for any brave act of virtue, commend not another for the same.
42. Be not apt to relate news if you know not the truth thereof. In discoursing of things you have heard, name not your author always. A secret discover not.
43. Be not curious to know the affairs of others, neither approach to those that speak in private.
44. Undertake not what you cannot perform; but be careful to keep your promise.
45. When you deliver a matter, do it without passion and indiscretion, however mean the person may be you do it to.
46. When your superiors talk to anybody, hear them; neither speak or laugh.
47. In disputes be not so desirous to overcome as not to give liberty to each one to deliver his opinion, and submit to the judgment of the major part, especially if they are judges of the dispute.
48. Be not tedious in discourse, make not many digressions, nor repeat often the same matter of discourse.
49. Speak no evil of the absent, for it is unjust.
50. Be not angry at table, whatever happens; and if you have reason to be so show it not; put on a cheerful countenance, especially if there be strangers, for good humor makes one dish a feast.
51. Set not yourself at the upper end of the table; but if it be your due, or the master of the house will have it so, contend not, lest you should trouble the company.
52. When you speak of God or his attributes, let it be seriously, in reverence and honor, and obey your natural parents.
53. Let your recreations be manful, not sinful.
54. Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.
This "want ad" appeared in the early part of this century.
Wanted A boy that stands straight, sits straight, acts straight, and talks straight;
A boy whose fingernails are not in mourning, whose ears are clean, whose shoes are polished, whose clothes are brushed, whose hair is combed, and whose teeth are well cared for;
A boy who listens carefully when he is spoken to, who asks questions when he does not understand, and does not ask questions about things that are none of his business;
A boy that moves quickly and makes as little noise about it as possible;
A boy who whistles in the street, but does not whistle where he ought to keep still;
A boy who looks cheerful, has a ready smile for everybody, and never sulks;
A boy who is polite to every man and respectful to every woman and girl;
A boy who does not smoke cigarettes and has no desire to learn how;
A boy who is more eager to know how to speak good English than to talk slang;
A boy that never bullies other boys nor allows other boys to bully him;
A boy who, when he does not know a thing, says, "I don't know," and when he has made a mistake says, "I'm sorry," and when he is asked to do a thing says, "I'll try";
A boy who looks you right in the eye and tells the truth every time;
A boy who is eager to read good books;
A boy who would rather put in his spare time at the YMCA gymnasium than to gamble for pennies in a back room;
A boy who does not want to be "smart" nor in any wise to attract attention;
A boy who would rather lose his job or be expelled from school than to tell a lie or be a cad;
A boy whom other boys like;
A boy who is at ease in the company of girls;
A boy who is not sorry for himself, and not forever thinking and talking about himself;
A boy who is friendly with his mother, and more intimate with her than anyone else;
A boy who makes you feel good when he is around;
A boy who is not goody-goody, a prig, or a little pharisee, but just healthy, happy, and full of life.
This boy is wanted everywhere. The family wants him, the school wants him, the office wants him, the boys want him, the girls want him, all creation wants him.
The Cattle of the Sun
Retold by Andrew Lang
Times of plenty call for one kind of self-discipline (as in the story of the goose that laid the golden eggs). Times of hardship call for other sorts of self-restraint. During tough times, people are tempted to put aside social and moral codes. In this episode from Homer's Odyssey, the crew of Odysseus (Ulysses) does not have the self-control to pass a tough test.
The ship swept through the roaring narrows between the rock of Scylla and the whirlpool of Charybdis, into the open sea, and the men, weary and heavy of heart, bent over their oars, and longed for rest.
Now a place of rest seemed near at hand, for in front of the ship lay a beautiful island, and the men could hear the bleating of sheep and the lowing of cows as they were being herded into their stalls. But Ulysses remembered that, in the Land of the Dead, the ghost of the blind prophet had warned him of one thing. If his men killed and ate the cattle of the Sun, in the sacred island of Thrinacia, they would all perish. So Ulysses told his crew of this prophecy, and bade them row past the island. Eurylochus was angry and said that the men were tired, and could row no further, but must land, and take supper, and sleep comfortably on shore. On hearing Eurylochus, the whole crew shouted and said that they would go no further that night, and Ulysses had no power to compel them. He could only make them swear not to touch the cattle of the Sun God, which they promised readily enough, and so went ashore, took supper, and slept.
In the night a great storm arose: the clouds and driving mist blinded the face of the sea and sky, and for a whole month the wild south wind hurled the waves on the coast, and no ship of these times could venture out in the tempest. Meanwhile the crew ate up all the stores in the ship, and finished the wine, so that they were driven to catch seabirds and fishes, of which they took but few, the sea being so rough upon the rocks. Ulysses went up into the island alone, to pray to the gods, and when he had prayed he found a sheltered place, and there he fell asleep.
Eurylochus took the occasion, while Ulysses was away, to bid the crew seize and slay the sacred cattle of the Sun God, which no man might touch, and this they did, so that, when Ulysses wakened, and came near the ship, he smelled the roast meat, and knew what had been done. He rebuked the men, but, as the cattle were dead, they kept eating them for six days; and then the storm ceased, the wind fell, the sun shone, and they set the sails, and away they went. But this evil deed was punished, for when they were out of sight of land, a great thundercloud overshadowed them, the wind broke the mast, which crushed the head of the helmsman, the lightning struck the ship in the center; she reeled, the men fell overboard, and the heads of the crew floated a moment, like cormorants, above the waves.
But Ulysses had kept hold of a rope, and, when the vessel righted, he walked the deck till a wave stripped off all the tackling, and loosened the sides from the keel. Ulysses had only time to lash the broken mast with a rope to the keel, and sit on this raft with his feet in the water, while the South Wind rose again furiously, and drove the raft back till it came under the rock where was the whirlpool of Charybdis. Here Ulysses would have been drowned, but he caught at the root of a fig tree that grew on the rock, and there he hung, clinging with his toes to the crumbling stones till the whirlpool boiled up again, and up came the timbers. Down on the timbers Ulysses dropped, and so sat rowing with his hands, and the wind drifted him at last to a shelving beach of an island.
David and Bathsheba
Retold by Jesse Lyman Hurlbut
Of all the vices, lust is the one many people seem to find the most difficult to control. The story of David and Bathsheba is from the second book of Samuel in the Bible.
When David first became king he went with his army upon the wars against the enemies of Israel. But there came a time when the cares of his kingdom were many, and David left Joab, his general, to lead his warriors, while he stayed in his palace on Mount Zion.
One evening, about sunset, David was walking upon the roof of his palace. He looked down into a garden nearby, and saw a woman who was very beautiful. David asked one of his servants who this woman was, and he said to him, "Her name is Bathsheba, and she is the wife of Uriah."
Now Uriah was an officer in David's army, under Joab; and at that time he was fighting in David's war against the Ammonites, at Rabbah, near the desert, on the east of Jordan. David sent for Uriah's wife, Bathsheba, and talked with her. He loved her, and greatly longed to take her as one of his own wives for in those times it was not thought a sin for a man to have more than one wife. But David could not marry Bathsheba while her husband, Uriah, was living. Then a wicked thought came into David's heart, and he formed a plan to have Uriah killed, so that he could then take Bathsheba into his own house.
David wrote a letter to Joab, the commander of his army. And in the letter he said, "When there is to be a fight with the Ammonites, send Uriah into the middle of it, where it will be the hottest; and manage to leave him there, so that he may be slain by the Ammonites."
And Joab did as David had commanded him. He sent Uriah with some brave men to a place near the wall of the city, where he knew that the enemies would rush out of the city upon them; there was a fierce fight beside the wall; Uriah was slain, and other brave men with him. Then Joab sent a messenger to tell King David how the war was being carried on, and especially that Uriah, one of his brave officers, had been killed in the fighting.
When David heard this, he said to the messenger, "Say to Joab, 'Do not feel troubled at the loss of the men slain in battle. The sword must strike down some. Keep up the siege; press forward, and you will take the city.'"
And after Bathsheba had mourned over her husband's death for a time, then David took her into his palace, and she became his wife. And a little child was born to them, whom David loved greatly. Only Joab, and David, and perhaps a few others, knew that David has caused the death of Uriah; but God knew it, and God was displeased with David for this wicked deed.
Then the Lord sent Nathan, the prophet, to David to tell him that, though men knew not that David had done wickedly, God had seen it, and would surely punish David for his sin. Nathan came to David, and he spoke to him thus:
"There were two men in one city; one was rich, and the other poor. The rich man had great flocks of sheep and herds of cattle; but the poor man had only one little lamb that he had bought. It grew up in his home with his children, and drank out of his cup, and lay upon his lap, and was like a little daughter to him.
"One day a visitor came to the rich man's house to dinner. The rich man did not take one of his own sheep to kill for his guest. He robbed the poor man of his lamb, and killed it, and cooked it for a meal with his friend."
"When David heard this, he was very angry. He said to Nathan, "The man who did this thing deserves to die! He shall give back to his poor neighbor fourfold for the lamb taken from him. How cruel to treat a poor man thus, without pity for him!"
And Nathan said to David, "You are the man who has done this deed. The Lord made you king in place of Saul, and gave you a kingdom. You have a great house, and many wives. Why, then, have you done this wickedness in the sight of the Lord? You have slain Uriah with the sword of the men of Ammon; and you have taken his wife to be your wife. For this there shall be a sword drawn against your house; you shall suffer for it, and your wives shall suffer, and your children shall suffer, because you have done this."
When David heard all this, he saw, as he had not seen before, how great was his wickedness. He was exceedingly sorry; and said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord."
And David showed such sorrow for his sin that Nathan said to him, "The Lord has forgiven your sin; and you shall not die on account of it. But the child that Uriah's wife has given to you shall surely die."
Soon after this the little child of David and Bathsheba, whom David loved greatly, was taken very ill. David prayed to God for the child's life; and David took no food, but lay in sorrow, with his face upon the floor of his house. The nobles of his palace came to him, and urged him to rise up and take food, but he would not. For seven days the child grew worse and worse, and David remained in sorrow. Then the child died; and the nobles were afraid to tell David, for they said to each other, "If he was in such grief while the child was living, what will he do when he hears that the child is dead?"
But when King David saw the people whispering to one another with sad faces, he said, "Is the child dead?"
And they said to him, "Yes, O king, the child is dead."
Then David rose up from the floor where he had been lying. He washed his face, and put on his kingly robes. He went first to the house of the Lord, and worshipped; then he came to his own house, and sat down to his table, and took food. His servants wondered at this, but David said to them, "While the child was still alive, I fasted, and prayed, and wept; for I hoped that by prayer to the Lord, and by the mercy of the Lord, his life might be spared. But now that he is dead, my prayers can do no more for him. I cannot bring him back again. He will not come back to me, but I shall go to him."
And after this God gave to David and to Bathsheba, his wife, another son, whom they named Solomon. The Lord loved Solomon, and he grew up to be a wise man.
After God had forgiven David's great sin, David wrote the Fifty-first Psalm, in memory of his sin and of God's forgiveness. Some of its verses are these:
Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to thy loving kindness:
According to the multitude of thy tender mercies
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions:
And my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned,
And done that which is evil in thy sight:
Hide thy face from my sins,
And blot out all mine iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence;
And take not thy holy spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation;
And uphold me with a free spirit.
Then will I teach transgressors thy ways;
And sinners shall be converted unto thee.
For thou delightest not in sacrifice; else would I give it:
Thou hast no pleasure in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit:
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou will not despise.
Vaulting Ambition, Which O'erleaps Itself
Here is unbridled, "vaulting" ambition at work in Shakespeare's Macbeth. The scene is the courtyard of Inverness, Macbeth's castle, where Macbeth and Lady Macbeth prepare to murder Duncan, king of Scotland, and thereby gain the throne. As Macbeth himself points out, his victim is his guest, his kinsman, and his king. But even these claims are not enough to stop the voracity of uncontrolled aspiration. Lady Macbeth urges her husband to "screw your courage to the sticking place" when he seems on the verge of faltering and so we see that a degree of self-mastery is required to conclude their plot. But it's the wrong kind of self-control, driven only by runaway ambitions.
Macb. If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
It were done quickly: if the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch,
With his surcease, success; that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
We'ld jump the life to come. But in these cases
We still have judgment here; that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which being taught return
To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison'd chalice
To our own lips. He's here in double trust:
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,
Who should against his murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself. Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels trumpet-tongued against
The deep damnation of his taking-off;
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubim horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind. I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself
And falls on the other.
Enter lady macbeth
How now! what news?
Lady M. He has almost supp'd: why have you left
Macb. Hath he ask'd for me?
Lady M. Know you not he has?
Macb. We will proceed no further in this business:
He hath honor'd me of late; and I have bought
Golden opinions from all sorts of people,
Which would be worn now in their newest gloss,
Not cast aside so soon.
Lady M. Was the hope drunk
Wherein you dress'd yourself?, hath it slept since?
And wakes it now, to look so green and pale
At what it did so freely? From this time
Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard
To be the same in thine own act and valor
As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting "I dare not" wait upon "I would,"
Like the poor cat i' the adage?
Macb. Prithee, peace
I dare do all that may become a man;
Who dares do more is none.
Lady M. What beast was't then
That made you break this enterprise to me?
When you durst do it, then you were a man;
And, to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more the man. Nor time nor place
Did then adhere, and yet you would make both:
They have made themselves, and that their fitness now
Does unmake you. I have given suck, and know
How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.
Macb. If we should fail?
Lady M. We fail!
But screw your courage to the sticking-place,
And we'll not fail. When Duncan is asleep
Whereto the rather shall his day's hard journey
Soundly invite him his two chamberlains
Will I with wine and wassail so convince,
That memory, the warder of the brain,
Shall be a fume, and the receipt of reason
A limbec only: when in swinish sleep
Their drenched natures lie as in a death,
What cannot you and I perform upon
The unguarded Duncan? what not put upon
His spongy officers, who shall bear the guilt
Of our great quell?
Macb. Bring forth men-children only;
For thy undaunted mettle should compose
Nothing but males. Will it not be received,
When we have mark'd with blood those sleepy two
Of his own chamber, and used their very daggers,
That they have done't?
Lady M. Who dares receive it other,
As we shall make our griefs and clamor roar Upon his death?
Macb. I am settled, and bend up
Each corporal agent to this terrible feat.
Away, and mock the time with fairest show:
False face must hide what the false heart doth know.
How Much Land Does a Man Need?
This story by Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), written in 1886, in its fundamental physical action is a marvelous metaphor for the need for us to set definite boundaries on our own appetites.
There once was a peasant named Pahom who worked hard and honestly for his family, but who had no land of his own, so he always remained as poor as the next man. "Busy as we are from childhood tilling mother earth," he often thought, "we peasants will always die as we are living, with nothing of our own. If only we had our own land, it would be different."
Now, close to Pahom's village there lived a lady, a small landowner, who had an estate of about three hundred acres. One winter the news got about that the lady was going to sell her land. Pahom heard that a neighbor of his was buying fifty acres and that the lady had consented to accept one half in cash and to wait a year for the other half.
"Look at that," Pahom thought. "The land is being sold, and I shall get none of it." So he spoke to his wife. "Other people are buying it, and we must also buy twenty acres or so. Life is becoming impossible without land of our own."
So they put their heads together and considered how they could manage to buy it. They had one hundred rubles laid by. They sold a colt, and one half of their bees, hired out one of their sons as a laborer, and took his wages in advance. They borrowed the rest from a brother-in-law, and so scraped together half the purchase money. Having done this, Pahom chose a farm of forty acres, some of it wooded, and went to the lady and bought it.
So now Pahom had land of his own. He borrowed seed, and sowed it, and the harvest was a good one. Within a year he had managed to pay off his debts to the lady and his brother-in-law. So he became a landowner, plowing and sowing his own land, making hay on his own land, cutting his own trees, and feeding his cattle on his own pasture. When he went out to plow his fields, or to look at his growing corn, or at his meadows, his heart would fill with joy. The grass that grew and the flowers that bloomed there seemed to him unlike any that grew elsewhere. Formerly, when he had passed by that land, it had appeared the same as any other land, but now it seemed quite different.
Then one day Pahom was sitting at home when a peasant, passing through the village, happened to stop in. Pahom asked him where he came from, and the stranger answered that he came from beyond the Volga, where he had been working. One word led to another, and the man went on to say that much land was for sale there, and that many people were moving there to buy it. The land was so good, he said, that the rye sown on it grew as high as a horse, and so thick that five cuts of a sickle made a sheaf. One peasant, he said, had brought nothing with him but his bare hands, and now he had six horses and two cows of his own.
Pahom's heart was filled with desire. "Why should I suffer in this narrow hole," he thought, "if one can live so well elsewhere? I will sell my land and my homestead here, and with the money I will start fresh over there and get everything new."
So Pahom sold his land and homestead and cattle, all at a profit, and moved his family to the new settlement. Everything the peasant had told him was true, and Pahom was ten times better off than he had been. He bought plenty of arable land and pasture, and could keep as many head of cattle as he liked.
At first, in the bustle of building and settling down, Pahom was pleased with it all, but when he got used to it he began to think that even here he was not satisfied. He wanted to sow more wheat, but had not enough land of his own for the purpose, so he rented extra land for three years. The seasons turned out well and the crops were good, so that he began to lay money by. He might have gone on living comfortably, but he grew tired of having to rent other people's land every year, and having to scramble to pay for it.
"If it were all my own land," Pahom thought, "I should be independent, and there would not be all this unpleasantness."
Then one day a passing land dealer said he was just returning from the land of Bashkirs, far away, where he had bought thirteen thousand acres of land, all for only one thousand rubles.
"All one need do is to make friends with the chiefs," he said. "I gave away about one hundred rubles' worth of dressing gowns and carpets, besides a case of tea, and I gave wine to those who would drink it, and I got the land for less than twopence an acre."
"There now," thought Pahom, "out there I can get more than ten times as much land as I have now. I must try it."
So Pahom left his family to look after the homestead and started on the journey, taking his servant with him. They stopped at a town on their way, and bought a case of tea, some wine, and other presents, as the tradesman had advised him. On and on they went until they had gone more than three hundred miles, and on the seventh day they came to a place where the Bashkirs had pitched their tents.
As soon as they saw Pahom, they came out of their tents and gathered around their visitor. They gave him tea and kumiss, and had a sheep killed, and gave him mutton to eat. Pahom took presents out of his cart and distributed them, and told them he had come about some land. The Bashkirs seemed very glad, and told him he must talk to their chief about it. So they sent for him and explained to him why Pahom had come.
The chief listened for a while, then made a sign with his head for them to be silent, and addressing himself to Pahom, said:
"Well, let it be so. Choose whatever piece of land you like. We have plenty of it."
"And what will be the price?" asked Pahom.
"Our price is always the same: one thousand rubles a day." Pahom did not understand.
"A day? What measure is that? How many acres would that be?"
"We do not know how to reckon it out," said the chief. "We sell it by the day. As much as you can go round on your feet in a day is yours, and the price is one thousand rubles a day."
Pahom was surprised.
"But in a day you can get round a large tract of land," he said.
The chief laughed.
"It will all be yours!" said he. "But there is one condition: if you don't return on the same day to the spot whence you started, your money is lost."
"But how am I to mark the way that I have gone?"
"Why, we shall go to any spot you like, and stay there. You must start from that spot and make your round, taking a spade with you. Wherever you think necessary, make a mark. At every turning, dig a hole and pile up the turf; then afterward we will go round with a plow from hole to hole. You may make as large a circuit as you please, but before the sun sets you must return to the place you started from. All the land you cover will be yours."
Pahom was delighted. It was decided to start early next morning. They talked awhile, and after drinking some more kumiss and eating some more mutton, they had tea again, and then the night came on. They gave Pahom a featherbed to sleep on, and the Bashkirs dispersed for the night, promising to assemble the next morning at daybreak and ride out before sunrise to the appointed spot.
Pahom lay on the featherbed, but could not sleep. He kept thinking about the land.
"What a large tract I will mark off!" thought he. "I can easily do thirty-five miles in a day. The days are long now, and within a circuit of thirty-five miles what a lot of land there will be! I will sell the poorer land, or let it to peasants, but I'll pick out the best and farm it. I will buy two ox teams, and hire two more laborers. About a hundred and fifty acres shall be plow land, and I will pasture cattle on the rest."
Looking round he saw through the open door that the dawn was breaking.
"It's time to wake them up," thought he. "We ought to be starting."
He got up, roused his man (who was sleeping in his cart), bade him harness; and went to call the Bashkirs.
"It's time to go to the steppe to measure the land," he said.
The Bashkirs rose and assembled, and the chief came too. Then they began drinking kumiss again, and offered Pahom some tea, but he would not wait.
"If we are to go, let us go. It is high time," said he.
The Bashkirs got ready and they all started: some mounted on horses, and some in carts. Pahom drove in his own small cart with his servant, and took a spade with him. When they reached the steppe, the morning red was beginning to kindle. They ascended a hillock and, dismounting from their carts and their horses, gathered in one spot. The chief came up to Pahom and stretched out his arm toward the plain.
"See," said he, "all this, as far as your eye can reach, is ours. You may have any part of it you like."
Pahom's eyes glistened: it was all virgin soil, as fiat as the palm of your hand, as black as the seed of a poppy, and in the hollows different kinds of grasses grew breast high.
The chief took off his fox fur cap, placed it on the ground and said:
"This will be the mark. Start from here, and return here again. All the land you go round shall be yours."
Pahom took out his money and put it on the cap. Then he took off his outer coat, remaining in his sleeveless undercoat. He unfastened his girdle and tied it tight below his stomach, put a little bag of bread into the breast of his coat, and tying a flask of water to his girdle, he drew up the tops of his boots, took the spade from his man, and stood ready to start. He considered for some moments which way he had better go it was tempting everywhere.
"No matter," he concluded, "I will go toward the rising sun."
He turned his face to the east, stretched himself, and waited for the sun to appear above the rim.
"I must lose no time," he thought, "and it is easier walking while it is still cool."
The sun's rays had hardly flashed above the horizon, before Pahom, carrying the spade over his shoulder, went down into the steppe.
Pahom started walking neither slowly nor quickly. After having gone a thousand yards he stopped, dug a hole, and placed pieces of turf one on another to make it more visible. Then he went on; and now that he had walked off his stiffness he quickened his pace. After a while he dug another hole.
Pahom looked back. The hillock could be distinctly seen in the sunlight, with the people on it, and the glittering tires of the cart wheels. At a rough guess Pahom concluded that he had walked three miles. It was growing warmer; he took off his undercoat, flung it across his shoulder, and went on again. It had grown quite warm now; he looked at the sun, it was time to think of breakfast.
"The first shift is done, but there are four in a day, and it is too soon yet to turn. But I will just take off my boots," said he to himself.
He sat down, took off his boots, stuck them into his girdle, and went on. It was easy walking now.
"I will go on for another three miles," thought he, "and then turn to the left. This spot is so fine, that it would be a pity to lose it. The further one goes, the better the land seems."
He went straight on for a while, and when he looked round, the hillock was scarcely visible and the people on it looked like black ants, and he could just see something glistening there in the sun.
"Ah," thought Pahom, "I have gone far enough in this direction, it is time to turn. Besides I am in a regular sweat, and very thirsty."
He stopped, dug a large hole, and heaped up pieces of turf. Next he untied his flask, had a drink, and then turned sharply to the left. He went on and on; the grass was high, and it was very hot.
Pahom began to grow tired: he looked at the sun and saw that it was noon.
"Well," he thought, "I must have a rest."
He sat down, and ate some bread and drank some water; but he did not lie down, thinking that if he did he might fall asleep. After sitting a little while, he went on again. At first he walked easily: the food had strengthened him; but it had become terribly hot, and he felt sleepy; still he went on, thinking: "An hour to suffer, a lifetime to live."
He went a long way in this direction also, and was about to turn to the left again, when he perceived a damp hollow: "It would be a pity to leave that out," he thought. "Flax would do well the re." So he went on past the hollow, and dug a hole on the other side of it before he turned the corner. Pahom looked toward the hillock. The heat made the air hazy: it seemed to be quivering, and through the haze the people on the hillock could scarcely be seen.
"Ah!" thought Pahom, "I have made the sides too long; I must make this one shorter." And he went along the third side, stepping faster. He looked at the sun: it was nearly halfway to the horizon, and he had not yet done two miles of the third side of the square. He was still ten miles from the goal.
"No," he thought, "though it will make my land lopsided, I must hurry back in a straight line now. I might go too far, and as it is I have a great deal of land."
So Pahom hurriedly dug a hole, and turned straight toward the hillock.
Pahom went straight toward the hillock, but he now walked with difficulty. He was done up with the heat, his bare feet were cut and bruised, and his legs began to fail. He longed to rest, but it was impossible if he meant to get back before sunset. The sun waits for no man, and it was sinking lower and lower.
"Oh dear," he thought, "if only I have not blundered trying for too much! What if I am too late?"
He looked toward the hillock and at the sun. He was still far from his goal, and the sun was already near the rim.
Pahom walked on and on; it was very hard walking, but he went quicker and quicker. He pressed on, but was still far from the place. He began running, threw away his coat, his boots, his flask, and his cap, and kept only the spade, which he used as a support.
"What shall I do," he thought again. "I have grasped too much, and ruined the whole affair. I can't get there before the sun sets."
And this fear made him still more breathless. Pahom went on running, his soaking shirt and trousers stuck to him, and his mouth was parched. His breast was working like a blacksmith's bellows, his heart was beating like a hammer, and his legs were giving way as if they did not belong to him. Pahom was seized with terror lest he should die of the strain.
Though afraid of death, he could not stop. "After having run all that way they will call me a fool if I stop now," thought he. And he ran on and on, and drew near and heard the Bashkirs yelling and shouting to him, and their cries inflamed his heart still more. He gathered his last strength and ran on.
The sun was close to the rim, and cloaked in mist looked large, and red as blood. Now, yes now, it was about to set! The sun was quite low, but he was also quite near his aim. Pahom could already see the people on the hillock waving their arms to hurry him up. He could see the fox fur cap on the ground, and the money on it, and the chief sitting on the ground holding his sides.
"There is plenty of land," thought he, "but will God let me live on it? I have lost my life, I have lost my life! I shall never reach that spot!"
Pahom looked at the sun, which had reached the earth; one side of it had already disappeared. With all his remaining strength he rushed on, bending his body forward so that his legs could hardly follow fast enough to keep him from falling. Just as he reached the hillock it suddenly grew dark. He looked up the sun had already set! He gave a cry: "All my labor has been in vain," thought he, and was about to stop, but he heard the Bashkirs still shouting, and remembered that though to him, from below, the sun seemed to have set, they on the hillock could still see it. He took a long breath and ran up the hillock. It was still light there. He reached the top and saw the cap. Before it sat the chief laughing and holding his sides. Pahom uttered a cry: his legs gave way beneath him, he fell forward and reached the cap with his hands.
"Ah, that's a fine fellow!" exclaimed the chief. "He has gained much land!"
Pahom's servant came running up and tried to raise him, but he saw that blood was flowing from his mouth. Pahom was dead!
The Bashkirs clicked their tongues to show their pity.
His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long enough for Pahom to lie in, and buried him in it. Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.
Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff
A. E. Housman
With wry irony, Alfred Edward Housman (1859-1936) advises preparing oneself for a world that may contain "much good, but much less good than ill." Escapist solutions such as drink (Burton-on-Trent, mentioned in the second stanza, is a famous English brewing town) offer only the false answer of illusion. The best tack, Housman says, is to "train for ill and not for good," and thereby steel oneself against all the unfairness life has to offer. And so he suggests as a model Mithridates, king of ancient Pontus in Asia Minor, who made himself immune to poison by swallowing small doses every day. There's a bit of cynicism in this poem, but there's also a good measure of hard truth: we must practice bracing ourselves for all of life's contingencies.
"Terence, this is stupid stuff:
You eat your victuals fast enough;
There can't be much amiss, 'tis clear,
To see the rate you drink your beer.
But oh, good Lord, the verse you make,
It gives a chap the bellyache.
The cow, the old cow, she is dead;
It sleeps well, the homéd head:
We poor lads, 'tis our turn now
To hear such tunes as killed the cow.
Pretty friendship 'tis to rhyme
Your friends to death before their time
Moping melancholy mad:
Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad."
Why, if 'tis dancing you would be,
There's brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hopyards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.
Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world's not.
And faith, 'tis pleasant till 'tis past:
The mischief is that 'twill not last.
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where,
And carried halfway home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I've lain,
Happy till I woke again.
Then I saw the morning sky.
Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
The world, it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet,
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.
Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,
And while the sun and moon endure
Luck's a chance, but trouble's sure,
I'd face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good.
'Tis true the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale:
Out of a stem that scored the hand
I wrung it in a weary land.
But take it: if the smack is sour,
The better for the embittered hour;
It should do good to heart and head
When your soul is in my soul's stead;
And I will friend you, if I may,
In the dark and cloudy day.
There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all that springs to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white's their shirt.
Them it was their poison hurt.
I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.
Plato on Self-Discipline
From the Gorgias
The right and wrong uses of rhetoric are technically the themes of Plato's Gorgias, but, as with all Platonic dialogues, the true end is the examination of how life should be lived. Here we find Callicles boldly asserting "what the rest of the world think, but do not like to say": leading the Good Life means having what you want, as much as you want, whenever you want. In short, the life of the rich and famous is the truly happy life. Socrates replies with his telling image of a leaky vessel as a metaphor for the intemperate soul. He insists that the ordered soul is the only truly happy one, the only one capable of living the Good Life.
Socrates. Every man is his own ruler; but perhaps you think that there is no necessity for him to rule himself; he is only required to rule others?
Callicles. What do you mean by his "ruling over himself"?
Soc. A simple thing enough; just what is commonly said, that a man should be temperate and master of himself, and ruler of his own pleasures and passions.
Cal. What innocence! you mean those fools the temperate?
Soc. Certainly: anyone may know that to be my meaning.
Cal. Quite so, Socrates; and they are really fools, for how can a man be happy who is the servant of anything? On the contrary, I plainly assert, that he who would truly live ought to allow his desires to wax to the uttermost, and not to chastise them; but when they have grown to their greatest he should have courage and intelligence to minister to them and to satisfy all his longings. And this I affirm to be natural justice and nobility. To this however the many cannot attain; and they blame the strong man because they are ashamed of their own weakness, which they desire to conceal, and hence they say that intemperance is base. As I have remarked already, they enslave the nobler natures, and being unable to satisfy their pleasures, they praise temperance and justice out of their own cowardice. For if a man had been originally the son of a king, or had a nature capable of acquiring an empire or a tyranny or sovereignty, what could be more truly base or evil than temperance to a man like him, I say, who might freely be enjoying every good, and has no one to stand in his way, and yet has admitted custom and reason and the opinion of other men to be lords over him? must not he be in a miserable plight whom the reputation of justice and temperance hinders from giving more to his friends than to his enemies, even though he be a ruler in his city? Nay, Socrates, for you profess to be a votary of the truth, and the truth is this: that luxury and intemperance and license, if they be provided with means, are virtue and happiness all the rest is a mere bauble, agreements contrary to nature, foolish talk of men, worth nothing.
Soc. There is a noble freedom, Callicles, in your way of approaching the argument; for what you say is what the rest of the world think, but do not like to say. And I must beg of you to persevere, that the true rule of human life may become manifest. Tell me, then: you say, do you not, that in the rightly developed man the passions ought not to be controlled, but that we should let them grow to the utmost and somehow or other satisfy them, and that this is virtue?
Cal. Yes; I do.
Soc. Then those who want nothing are not truly said to be happy?
Cal. No indeed, for then stones and dead men would be the happiest of all.
Soc. But surely life according to your view is an awful thing....Let me request you to consider how far you would accept this as an account of the two lives of the temperate and intemperate in a figure: There are two men, both of whom have a number of casks; the one man has his casks sound and full, one of wine, another of honey, and a third of milk, besides others filled with other liquids, and the streams which fill them are few and scanty, and he can only obtain them with a great deal of toil and difficulty; but when his casks are once filled he has no need to feed them anymore, and has no further trouble with them or care about them. The other, in like manner, can procure streams, though not without difficulty; but his vessels are leaky and unsound, and night and day he is compelled to be filling them, and if he pauses for a moment, he is in an agony of pain. Such are their respective lives: And now would you say that the life of the intemperate is happier than that of the temperate? Do I not convince you that the opposite is the truth?
Cal. You do not convince me, Socrates, for the one who has filled himself has no longer any pleasure left; and this, as I was just now saying, is the life of a stone: he has neither joy nor sorrow after he is once filled; but the pleasure depends on the superabundance of the influx.
Soc. But the more you pour in, the greater the waste; and the holes must be large for the liquid to escape.
Soc. The life which you are now depicting is not that of a dead man, or of a stone, but of a cormorant; you mean that he is to be hungering and eating?
Soc. And he is to be thirsting and drinking?
Cal. Yes, that is what I mean; he is to have all his desires about him, and to be able to live happily in the gratification of them....
Soc. Listen to me, then, while I recapitulate the argument: Is the pleasant the same as the good? Not the same. Callicles and I are agreed about that. And is the pleasant to be pursued for the sake of the good? or the good for the sake of the pleasant? The pleasant is to be pursued for the sake of the good. And that is pleasant at the presence of which we are pleased, and that is good at the presence of which we are good? To be sure. And we are good, and all good things whatever are good when some virtue is present in us or them? That, Callicles, is my conviction. But the virtue of each thing, whether body or soul, instrument or creature, when given to them in the best way comes to them not by chance but as the result of the order and truth and art which are imparted to them: Am I not right? I maintain that I am. And is not the virtue of each thing dependent on order or arrangement? Yes, I say. And that which makes a thing good is the proper order inhering in each thing? Such is my view. And is not the soul which has an order of her own better than that which has no order? Certainly. And the soul which has order is orderly? Of course. And that which is orderly is temperate? Assuredly. And the temperate soul is good? No other answer can I give, Callicles dear; have you any?
Cal. Go on, my good fellow.
Soc. Then I shall proceed to add, that if the temperate soul is the good soul, the soul which is in the opposite condition, that is, the foolish and intemperate, is the bad soul. Very true.
And will not the temperate man do what is proper, both in relation to the gods and to men; for he would not be temperate if he did not? Certainly he will do what is proper. In his relation to other men he will do what is just; and in his relation to the gods he will do what is holy; and he who does what is just and holy must be just and holy? Very true. And must he not be courageous? For the duty of a temperate man is not to follow or to avoid what he ought not, but what he ought, whether things or men or pleasures or pains, and patiently to endure when he ought; and therefore, Callicles, the temperate man, being, as we have described, also just and courageous and holy, cannot be other than a perfectly good man, nor can the good man do otherwise than well and perfectly whatever he does; and he who does well must of necessity be happy and blessed, and the evil man who does evil, miserable: now this latter is he whom you were applauding the intemperate who is the opposite of the temperate. Such is my position, and these things I affirm to be true. And if they are true, then I further affirm that he who desires to be happy must pursue and practice temperance and run away from intemperance as fast as his legs will carry him: he had better order his life so as not to need punishment; but if either he or any of his friends, whether private individual or city, are in need of punishment, then justice must be done and he must suffer punishment, if he would be happy. This appears to me to be the aim which a man ought to have, and toward which he ought to direct all the energies both of himself and of the state, acting so that he may have temperance and justice present with him and be happy, not suffering his lusts to be unrestrained, and in the never-ending desire to satisfy them leading a robber's life. Such a one is the friend neither of God nor man, for he is incapable of communion, and he who is incapable of communion is also incapable of friendship. And philosophers tell us, Callicles, that communion and friendship and orderliness and temperance and justice bind together heaven and earth and gods and men, and that this universe is therefore called Cosmos or order, not disorder or misrule, my friend.
Aristotle on Self-Discipline
From the Nicomachean Ethics
We are the sum of our actions, Aristotle tells us, and therefore our habits make all the difference. Moral virtue, we learn in this discussion from the Nicomachean Ethics, comes with practice, just like the mastery of any art or mechanical skill. And what is the best way to practice? Aristotle's answer lies in his explanation of "the mean." In his view, correct moral behavior in any given situation lies at the midway point between the extremes of two vices. We must practice hitting the mean by determining which vice we tend toward and then consciously moving toward the other extreme, until we reach the middle.
Virtue, then, is of two kinds, intellectual and moral. Intellectual virtue springs from and grows from teaching, and therefore needs experience and time. Moral virtues come from habit....They are in us neither by nature, nor in despite of nature, but we are furnished by nature with a capacity for receiving them, and we develop them through habit....These virtues we acquire by first exercising them, as in the case of other arts. Whatever we learn to do, we learn by actually doing it: men come to be builders, for instance, by building, and harp players, by playing the harp. In the same way, by doing just acts we come to be just; by doing self-controlled acts, we come to be self-controlled; and by doing brave acts, we become brave....
How we act in our relations with other people makes us just or unjust. How we face dangerous situations, either accustoming ourselves to fear or confidence, makes us brave or cowardly. Occasions of lust and anger are similar: some people become self-controlled and patient from their conduct in such situations, and others uncontrolled and passionate. In a word, then, activities produce similar dispositions. Therefore we must give a certain character to our activities....In short, the habits we form from childhood make no small difference, but rather they make all the difference.
Moral virtue is a mean that lies between two vices, one of excess and the other of deficiency, and...it aims at hitting the mean both in feelings and actions. So it is hard to be good, for surely it is hard in each instance to find the mean, just as it is difficult to find the center of a circle. It is easy to get angry or to spend money anyone can do that. But to act the right way toward the right person, in due proportion, at the right time, for the right reason, and in the right manner this is not easy, and not everyone can do it.
Therefore he who aims at the mean should make it his first care to keep away from that extreme which is more contrary than the other to the mean....For one of the two extremes is always more erroneous than the other. And since hitting the mean exactly is difficult, one must take the next best course, and choose the least of the evils as the safest plan....
We should also take notice of the errors into which we naturally tend to fall. They vary in each individual's case, and we will discover ours by the pleasure or pain they give us. Having discovered our errors, we must force ourselves off in the opposite direction. For we shall arrive at the mean by moving away from our failing, just as if we were straightening a bent piece of wood. But in all cases we should guard most carefully against what is pleasant, and pleasure itself, because we are not impartial judges of it....
This much, then, is plain: in all our conduct, the mean is the most praiseworthy state. But as a practical matter, we must sometimes aim a bit toward excess and sometimes toward deficiency, because this will be the easiest way of hitting the mean, that is, what is right.
Go Forth to Life
Go forth to life, oh! child of Earth.
Still mindful of thy heavenly birth;
Thou art not here for ease or sin,
But manhood's noble crown to win.
Though passion's fires are in thy soul,
Thy spirit can their flames control;
Though tempters strong beset thy way,
Thy spirit is more strong than they.
Go on from innocence of youth
To manly pureness, manly truth;
God's angels still are near to save,
And God himself doth help the brave.
Then forth to life, oh! child of Earth,
Be worthy of thy heavenly birth,
For noble service thou art here;
Thy brothers help, thy God revere!
For Everything There Is a Season
For every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Copyright © 1993 by William J. Bennett
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