“Let each morning and evening be a new and complete day. In childlike simplicity live as if you were to have no to-morrow so far as worrying as to its possible outcome goes. Make the best of to-day's income. Not one minute of to-morrow belongs to you. It is all God's. Thank him that His hands hold it, and not your feeble, uncertain fingers.”

Marion Harland


An Open Secret,

Chapter I.

Sisterly Discourse with John's Wife Concerning John,

Chapter II.

The Family Purse,

Chapter III.

The Parable of the Rich Woman and the Farmer's Wife,

Chapter IV.

Little Things that are Trifles,

Chapter V.

A Mistake on John's Part,

Chapter VI.


Chapter VII.

Must-haves and May-bes,

Chapter VIII.

What Good Will It Do?

Chapter IX.

Shall I Pass It On?

Chapter X.

"Only Her Nerves,"

Chapter XI.

The Rule of Two,

Chapter XII.

The Perfect Work of Patience,

Chapter XIII.

According to His Folly,

Chapter XIV.

"Buttered Parsnips,"

Chapter XV.

Is Marriage Reformatory?

Chapter XVI.

"John's" Mother,

Chapter XVII.

And Other Relations-in-Law,

Chapter XVIII.

A Timid Word for the Step-mother,

Chapter XIX.

Children as Helpers,

Chapter XX.

Children as Burden-bearers,

Chapter XXI.

Our Young Person,

Chapter XXII.

Our Boy,

Chapter XXIII.

That Spoiled Child,

Chapter XXIV.

Getting Along in Years,

Chapter XXV.


Chapter XXVI.

The Gospel of Conventionalities,


Familiar, or Intimate?


Our Stomachs,


Cheerfulness as a Christian Duty,


The Family Invalid,


A Temperance Talk,


Family Music,


Family Religion,


A Parting Word for Boy,


Homely, But Important,



The Secret of a Happy Home

Author: Marion Harland

Published: 1896



The hardest task ever set for mortal endeavor is for us to allow other people to know less than we know.

The failure to perform this task has kindled the fagots about the stake where heretics perished for obstinacy.

It is not a week, by the way, since I heard a woman, gently nurtured and intellectual, lament that those "old Pilgrim forefathers were so disagreeably obstinate." She "wondered that their generation did not send them to the scaffold instead of across the sea."

Inability to suffer the rest of the world to be mistaken has set a nation by the ears, broken hearts and fortunes, and separated more chief friends than all other alienating causes combined. Many self-deluding souls set down their impatience with others' errors to a spirit of benevolence. They love their friends too dearly, they have too sincere a desire for the welfare of acquaintances, to let them hold mischievous tenets.

The cause of variance may appear contemptible to an indifferent third party.

To the average reasoner who has no personal concern in the debate, it may seem immaterial at what date Mrs. Jenkyns paid her last visit to Boston. She is positive that it was in March, 1889. Mr. Jenkyns is as certain that she accompanied him thither in April of that year. She establishes her position by the fact that she left her baby for the first time when the cherub was ten months old, and there is the Family Bible to prove that he was born May 10, 1888. Is she likely to be mistaken on such a point when she cried all night in Boston and the bereft infant wailed all night in New York? What does Charles take her for? Hasn't he said, himself, dozens of times, that there is no use arguing as to times and seasons with a woman who verifies these by her children's ages? Mr. Jenkyns has said so--but with a difference. There is no use arguing with a woman in any circumstances, whatsoever. That Emma tries to carry her point now by lugging in the poor little kid, who has nothing whatever to do with the case, is but another proof of the inconsequence of the sex. He has the stub of his check-book to show that he paid the hotel bill in Boston, April 11, 1889. Figures cannot lie. Mrs. Charles Jenkyns challenges the check-book on the spot--and the wrangle goes on until she seeks her chamber to have her cry out, and he storms off to office or club, irritated past forbearance by the pig-headed perversity of a creature he called "angel" with every third breath on their wedding journey to Boston in 1886.

Each of the combatants was confident, after the first exchange of shots, that the other was in error. Half an hour's quarreling left both doubly confident of the truth which was self-evident from the outset. It is sadly probable that neither will ever confess, to himself or to herself, that the only wise course for either to pursue would have been to let ignorance have its perfect work, by abstaining from so much as a hint of contradiction.

"I don't see how you held your temper and your tongue!" said one man to another, as a self-satisfied acquaintance strutted away from the pair after a monologue of ten minutes upon a matter of which both of his companions knew infinitely more than he. "I hadn't patience to listen to him, much less answer him good-humoredly--he is such a fool!"

"I let him alone because he is a fool."

"But he is puffed up by the fond impression that you agree with him!"

"That doesn't hurt me,--and waste of cellular tissue in such a cause would!"

"Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit?" asks Solomon. "There is more hope of a fool than of him."

Which I take to mean that self-conceit is the rankest form of folly, a sort of triple armor of defence against counter-statement and rebutting argument. So far as my experience goes to prove a disheartening proposition,--all fools are wise (to themselves) in their own conceit. The first evidence of true wisdom is humility. One may be ignorant without being foolish. Lack of knowledge because the opportunity for acquiring it has been withheld, induces in the human mind such conditions as we find in a sponge that has been cleaned and dried. Information fills and enlarges the pores. Ignorance that is content with itself is turgid and saturated. It will take up no more, no matter what is offered.

This is the form of folly which the preacher admonishes us to answer in kind. The effort to force the truth upon the charged sponge is an exercise of mental muscle akin to the beating of the air, deprecated by the Apostle to the Gentiles.

"Such stolid stupidity is incredible in a land where education is compulsory!" exclaimed a friend who, having talked himself out of breath in the effort to persuade a rich vulgarian into belief of one of the simplest of philosophical principles, had the mortification of seeing that his opponent actually flattered himself with the idea that he had come off victorious in the wordy skirmish. "One would have thought that living where he does, and as he does, he would have taken in such knowledge through the pores."

"Not if the pores were already full," was a retort that shed new light into the educated mind.

Folly has a law and language of its own with which intelligence intermeddles not. The workings of an intellect at once untrained and self-sufficient are like the ways of Infinite Wisdom--past finding out.

Philosophy and politeness harmonize in the effort to meet such intellects upon what they shall not suspect is "made ground." To apply to them the rules of conversation and debate you would use in intercourse with equals would be absurd, and disagreeable alike to you and to themselves. They would never forgive a plain statement of the difference between you and their guild.

As a matter of curious experiment, I made the attempt once, in a case of a handsome dolt, who was, nominally, a domestic in my employ for a few months. She had an affected pose and tread which she conceived to be majestic. She was stupid, awkward and slovenly about her work, and altogether so "impossible" that I disliked to send her adrift upon the world, and was still more averse to imposing her upon another household. In a weak moment I essayed to reason her out of her fatuous vanity, and stimulate in her a desire to make something better of herself. She seemed to hearken while I represented mildly the expediency of learning to do her part in life well and creditably; how conscience entered into the performance of duties some people considered mean; how, in this country, a washerwoman is as worthy as the President's wife, so long as she respects herself.

Norah's impassive face had not changed, but she interposed here:

"Beg pardon, ma'am! I've no thought of taking a hand with the washing."

I was silly enough to go on with what I had tried to make so plain that the wayfaring "living-out girl" could not err in taking it in. I was willing to train her in the duties of her station. I set forth, and would have specified what these were, but for a second interruption that was evidently not intentionally disrespectful, and was uttered with the bovine stolidity that never forsook her.

"Excuse me, ma'am, but I've always understood that all that made a lady in Ameriky was eddercation, an' shure I have that 's well 's you!"

She could read, or so I suppose, although I never saw a book in her hand, and could probably write, after the fashion of her class.

With a smile at my folly that struggled with a sigh over hers, I let her go. It was my fault not hers, that I had bruised my fists thumping against a stone wall. Had I discoursed to her in Bengalee she would have comprehended me no more imperfectly. The doom of hopelessness was upon her. She was not merely a fool, but had taken the full degree as a self-satisfied blockhead. I deserved what I got--and more of the same sort.

Of a different type--being only a moderately conceited ignoramus, was an otherwise well-educated woman whom I heard discourse volubly upon ceramics and a valuable collection of old china she had picked up in a foreign town. Among other kinds she named some choice bits of "faience."

"Is not that used now as a general term for earthenware decorated with color?" asked a listener modestly.

"Oh, by no means! It is never applied except to a particular and exceedingly rare sort of pottery," went on the connoisseur. "But perhaps you are not familiar with ceramic terms?"

"Not as familiar as I should be, I confess," rejoined the other, gently regretful.

A couple of years later, I met the enthusiastic collector in the house of the other party to the dialogue, and learned with her that our hostess was renowned for her treasures of old china, and actually the author of a book upon ceramics.

"What must she have thought of me the day I made such a fool of myself!" moaned the humbled woman in a corner to me. "And you know--as I have learned since, as she knew all the time,--that 'faience' is used as a generic term! Well! I have had my lesson in talking of what I do not understand. How could she have answered me so civilly and gravely!"

I was too sorry for her to put into words the thought of the proverbial answer, "according to his folly." The incident had its moral and example for me too. The recollection has beaten back many a vehement protest against egregious absurdity, and helped me endure with apparent composure even the patronage of fools.

After all, there are so many mistakes made by other people that affect nobody but themselves that Don Quixote might tire of tilting at them. The more asinine the speaker the louder is his bray, and the more surely do we encounter him in social and domestic haunts. To dispute with him is to strengthen the stakes, and twist harder the cords of his belief in himself. In recognizing the truth, so humiliating to human reason, one wonders what effect would be produced by a determined regime of letting alone. Would what St. James graphically describes as "foaming out of their own shame," finally froth itself into silence? Is not the opposition consequent upon the universal desire to set other people right, the breath that blows the flame?

What would be the status of society, what the atmosphere of our homes, were each of us to curb the impulse to controvert doubtful, but important, statements:--to seem to acquiesce in--let us say, in Tom's declaration that there are forty black cats in the back yard, and Polly's opinion that Susie Jones is the prettiest girl in town, when we consider her positively homely, and so on to the end of the day's or week's or month's chapter? If, when we know that a man is a blatant vaporer, we simply let him vapor, and mind our own business; if, having gauged the measure of a woman's mind, and found it only an inch deep, we do not fret our souls by vain dredgings in a channel to-day that will fill up by to-morrow; if we give the fool the benefit of his license; and expend thought and care upon that which is hopeful and profitable--do we not prove ourselves prudent economists of time and labor?

The subject is practical, and merits consideration. In this working-day world of ours there is so much unavoidable pain, and so much annoyance which we cannot overlook, that sensible people cushion corners and shrink aside from brier-pricks. We do ourselves actual physical harm when we lose temper; the tart speech takes virtue out of us. A woman would better fatigue herself by righting an untidy chamber than scold a servant for neglecting it. Foreigners comment surprisedly upon the "anxious faces" of American women even of the better class. The inchoate condition of our domestic service has undoubtedly much to do with the premature seams that mar what would else be fair and sweet, but I incline to the belief that more is due to a certain irritableness which is a national characteristic,--a restless desire to set everything right. The zeal for reform is commendable, but not always according to knowledge. Certain forms of folly cure themselves, if not flattered by grave rebuke, and others do not come within the province of her who has her hands full already. It is easier for us all to find fault than to overlook. It "just drives our woman-reformer wild to hear some people talk!" The least aggressive of us knows for herself the impotent vexation of attempting to convince one who is too dull, or too dogged, to see reason. Why, then, yield to the disposition to attempt the impracticable? If we would live worthily and live long, we must school ourselves in the minor details of self-control and everyday philosophy that make up a useful and well-balanced life.

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