Sisterly Discourse with John's Wife Concerning John,
The Family Purse,
The Parable of the Rich Woman and the Farmer's Wife,
Little Things that are Trifles,
A Mistake on John's Part,
Must-haves and May-bes,
What Good Will It Do?
Shall I Pass It On?
"Only Her Nerves,"
The Rule of Two,
The Perfect Work of Patience,
According to His Folly,
Is Marriage Reformatory?
And Other Relations-in-Law,
A Timid Word for the Step-mother,
Children as Helpers,
Children as Burden-bearers,
Our Young Person,
Getting Along in Years,
The Gospel of Conventionalities,
Familiar, or Intimate?
Cheerfulness as a Christian Duty,
The Family Invalid,
A Temperance Talk,
A Parting Word for Boy,
Homely, But Important,
I shall never forget the first time I heard the homely proverb, once better known than now, "Fine words butter no parsnips."
A bitter-tongued old lady, with an eye like a hawk's, and a certain suspicious turn of the head to this side and that which reminded one of the same bird of prey, was discussing a new neighbor.
"I don't hold with meaching ways at any time and in anybody," said the thin croak, made more husky by snuff, a pinch of which she held between thumb and finger, the joined digits punctuating her strictures. "And she's one of the fair-and-softy sort. A pleasant word to this one, and a smile to that, and always recollecting who is sick, and who is away from home, and ready to talk about what pleases you, and not herself, and praising your biscuits and your bonnets and your babies, and listening to you while you are talking as if there was nobody else upon earth."
Like the octogenarian whose teeth gave out before his dry toast, she "hadn't finished, but she stopped" there, being clean out of breath.
"But Mrs. A.!" I raised my girlish voice to reach the deaf ears. "I think all that is beautiful. I only wish I could imitate her, and be as popular and as much beloved."
"Humph!" inhaling the snuff spitefully. "She's too sweet to be wholesome. Fair words butter no parsnips. Look out for a tongue that's smooth on both sides. What does the Bible say of the hypocrite? 'The words of his mouth were smoother than butter.' I'd rather have honest vinegar!"
I stood too much in dread of her frankness to ask if sugar is never honest, or to speculate audibly why she chose parsnips with their length of fibre and peculiar cloying sweet, as types of daily living. The adage seemed droll enough to me then, and it is odd even now that I have become familiar with it in the talk of old-fashioned people. Interpreting it as they do, I dispute it stoutly. Parsnips may be only passable to most palates even when buttered. They would be intolerable with vinegar. Furthermore,--before we drop the figure,--if anything can butter them, it is fair words.
This business which we call living is not easy at the best. Our parsnips are sometimes tough and stringy; sometimes insipid; often withered by drought or frost-bitten. If served without sauce, they--to quote our old-fashioned people again--"go against the stomach."
There is a pernicious fallacy to the effect that a rough tongue is an honest one. There are quite as many unpleasant untruths told as there are flattering falsehoods. Because a speech is kind it is not of necessity a lie, nor does a remark gain in truth in direct ratio as it loses its politeness. Often the blunt criticism is the outcome of a savage instinct on the part of the perpetrator. In America, men and women (always excepting Italians) do not carry poniards concealed in their breasts, or swords at their sides. In lieu of these the tongue is used to revenge an evil.
The Psalmist exclaims: "Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness; and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil," but the average representative of the nineteenth century will not echo his sentiment. It may be that the "righteous" of that day had a more agreeable way of offering reproof than have the modern saints. However that may be, the "excellent oil" seems to have given place to corrosive sublimate and carbolic acid--neither of which, applied in an undiluted form, may be even remotely suspected of soothing an open wound. True, they are fatal to bacteria, but at the same time they madden the sufferer as would coals of living fire.
Even supposing one lays herself open to the charge of flattery, is it not less of a fault than to merit the reputation for brutal fault-finding? Who would not rather be a healer than a scarifier?
"Faithful may be the wounds of a friend" (and on this word "friend" I lay special stress), but the converse is also true. Faithful are his healings. Have you never had a whole day brightened by some seemingly chance remark which warmed the cockles of your heart with a delicious glow? It may have been that you were disappointed in some cherished scheme--how much disappointed no one guessed and you were ashamed to confess. It may have been that you were struggling to be brave and cheerful under some trial, the weight of which you thought others could not appreciate. The cheering word may only have been--"My dear, how sweet you are looking to-day! You do my old eyes good." Or perhaps an appreciative other-half has pressed your hand and whispered, "You are the bravest little woman in the world!" Who does not remember how, at such a time, the unexpected sympathy or encouragement brought the quick tears to the eyes, and to the cheeks the flush which meant a bound of joy from the heavy heart? If we could but remember that we are told to "speak the truth in love!" In "love," recollect,--not in temper. Do not be the accursed one by whom the offences come. They will come. The Evil One will look out for that, but it is not worth while for you to make his work too easy. Determine to train yourself strictly to see the many excellent qualities possessed by your associates, and you will be surprised to find that before long the disagreeable traits will only appear as foils for the good. Cultivate an eye for pleasant characteristics, and do not encourage people who are prone to rough speech. Frown down the blunt expression of opinion and it will cease to be considered praiseworthy frankness. The woman of whom the Royal Preacher speaks, "in whose tongue was the law of kindness," probably showed that kindness by being agreeable, or we may be sure no human being of the masculine gender would have considered her price far above rubies; nor add with such sublime confidence--"her husband also, and he praises her."
One such woman never forgot to thank anyone for the slightest favor, and I have seen a burly and phlegmatically sombre policeman smile with unexpected pleasure at receiving the sweet-faced "thank you!" with which she always acknowledged his pilotage over a crowded street-crossing.
It is time that people comprehended that it is not their duty to be disagreeably frank, when another's comfort is the price thereof. An unkind sentence has the power of lodgment in the mind. It is like the red "chigoe" which inserts his tiny head in the flesh and burrows until he causes a throbbing fester. For instance, I have never forgotten a speech which was addressed to me over twenty years ago. It was just after we had built an unpretending, but thoroughly cozy summer cottage, nestled in a grove of trees that threw long shadows into a silvery lake. The man in question told me he never saw our light at night from the other side of the pretty sheet of water that it did not "remind him of a charcoal-burner's hut in the heart of a wilderness." It would be of interest to ascertain why this needlessly unkind remark was made. Since there were at least one or two pleasant features in the landscape, why could he not call attention to them?
It is not necessary that we should flatter, but let us be lavishly generous with what French cooks call sauce agreable, since parsnips must be eaten. Some efforts in this line remind me of a story I recently heard of a farmer who received at a New York restaurant the customary small pat of butter with his Vienna roll. Imperiously beckoning to a waiter, he commanded him to "wipe that grease spot off that plate, and bring him some butter!"
Let us give more than the grease spot. Better go to the other extreme, and drown our friend's neglected parsnips in fresh, pure un-oleomargarined, and entirely sweet butter.