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,
"Conformity to fact or reality. Exact accordance with that which is, has been, or shall be."
I looked up Webster's definition of Truth yesterday, after overhearing a conversation between two girls in the horse-car. They spoke so loudly that not to hear would have been an impossibility. My attention was first attracted to them by the name of a friend.
"Did you know of Mr. B.'s illness?" asked the younger and more pronounced colloquist.
"Yes," responded the other; "I know he has had pneumonia, but I understand that he is now convalescent."
"Oh, then, you haven't heard the latest!"
The discovery of her companion's ignorance acted upon the girl like magic. She became vivacious, and beamed with the glow of satisfaction kindled by the privilege of being the first to relate a morsel of news.
"Well, my dear! Mamma and I were calling there, and while I was talking to Miss B., I heard Mrs. B. tell my mother this awful thing. You know Mr. B.'s sister is a trained nurse (I never did believe in trained nurses!) and when he was taken so ill they sent for her to come and take care of him. She got along tolerably well until a few days ago when the doctor prescribed quinine for Mr. B. By mistake, she gave him ten grains of morphine."
"Yes, my dear, she did! It seems like an immense quantity, but, as I wanted to be accurate (I always say that accuracy is a Christian duty), I asked Miss B. how many grains her father took, and she said 'Ten!' Well! the poor victim slept thirty hours, and they were so frightened that they sent for the doctor. He said that, fortunately, no harm was done, but that it was an unpardonable piece of carelessness. They discharged the nurse forthwith. She ought to have been arrested and punished,--not turned loose upon a confiding community."
"Yet you say she is his own sister?"
"Yes, indeed! and the family have always been perfectly devoted to her! But they have sent her to the right-about now. It is too bad! A family row is such an unfortunate thing. They may be thankful not to have a murder-case to deal with!"
Strangely enough, I was en route for the house of my friend, Mrs. B., and as the car, at this juncture, crossed the street on which she lived, I motioned to the conductor to ring the bell, and alighted before hearing more of that remarkable tale. Being acquainted with the whole matter as it actually occurred, I was amused and indignant, as well as curious, to learn how this girl had received the wretchedly garbled version of an affair, the facts of which were these:
When Mr. B. was suddenly prostrated by an alarming attack of pneumonia, his sister, a noble woman who had taken up as her life-work the duties of a trained nurse in a Boston hospital, was telegraphed for. As she had a serious case in charge, it was impossible to obey the summons, and a New York nurse was engaged. Mr. B.'s physician had, early in his illness, prepared some powders, each containing a minute portion of morphine, and several had been administered to the patient. Of late, he had taken five grains of quinine each morning. A few days before the above mentioned harangue, the doctor ordered the nurse to double the usual dose of quinine. She, carelessly, or misunderstanding the directions, gave two of the morphine powders. The dose was not large enough to cause more serious injury than throwing the patient into a long and heavy sleep, and frightening his family. The doctor, who had engaged the nurse, discharged her, as Mr. B. was so far improved as to need only such care as his wife and daughter could give him.
My curiosity prompted me to inquire of Mrs. B. and Miss B., without divulging my motive, the particulars of the call they had received from the horse-car orator. I learned that Mrs. B. had told the girl's mother the facts of the case while the two daughters were talking together. Miss B. said that they, now and then, overheard a few words of the conversation between the older women, and that her companion had made several inquiries concerning it. Among others was the query:
"How many grains of the medicine does your father take every day?"
Miss B., supposing she referred to the quinine, answered:
"Five, generally; but on the day of which mamma speaks, ten grains were prescribed."
And from this scanty amount of rapidly acquired information had grown the story to which I had been an amazed listener.
"Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth!"
Yet this girl did not intend to lie. She gleaned scraps of a conversation, and allowed a vivid imagination to supply the portions she did not hear. Add to this the love of producing a sensation, which is an inherent trait of many characters, and behold potent reasons for seven-tenths of the cases of exaggeration which come to our notice, romances constructed upon the "impressionist-picture" plan--a thing of splash and glare and abnormal perspective that vitiates the taste for symmetry and right coloring.
We all like to be the first to tell a story, and are anxious to relate it so well that our listeners shall be entertained. That a tale loses nothing in the telling is an established fact, especially if the narrator thereof observes a lack of interest on the part of his listeners. Then the temptation to arouse them to attention becomes almost irresistible and unconsciously one accepts the maxim at which we all sneer,--that it is folly to let the truth spoil a good story. Every day we have occasion to hold our heads, reeling to aching with conflicting accounts of some one incident, and repeat the question asked almost nineteen hundred years ago:
"What is truth?"
We hear much of people who are "too frank." These destroyers of the peace of mind of friend and foe alike pride themselves on the fact that they are "nothing if not candid," and "always say just what they think." Be it understood, this is not truthfulness. The utterance of unnecessary and unkind criticism, however honest, is impertinence, amounting to insolence.
When your "frank friend(?)" tells you that your gown does not fit, that you dress your hair in such an unbecoming manner, that your management of your household is not what it should be, she takes an unwarrantable liberty. If traced back, the source of these remarks would be found in a large percentage of instances, in a disagreeable temper, captious humors, and a spirit that is anything but Christian. One may be entirely truthful without bestowing gratuitous advice and admonition.
People differ widely in their notions of veracity, and few would endorse the technical definition with which this talk begins. Is it because there is so much intentional falsehood, so much that is not in "exact accordance with that which is, has been, or shall be," or that standards of veracity vary with individual disposition, and what may be classified as social climatic influences? Is it true that in morals there is no stated, infallible and eternal gauge--"the measure of a man--that is, of an angel?"
If a lie is something told "with the intention to deceive," as says the catechism, a nineteenth century Diogenes would have need to search in a crowd with an electric light in quest of a perfectly truthful man.
For our comfort and hope be it recorded that there are men and women who are uniformly veracious, and still courteous, who would not descend to falsehood or subterfuge, yet who are never guilty of the rudeness of making untactful speeches.
Were there more of such exceptions to the rule of inconsiderate, exaggerated and recklessly mendacious talk that wounds ear and heart, the "society lie" would be no more, and this flimsy excuse for falsehood would be voted an article too tenuous and threadbare for use.
Good people, so-called Christians, seldom appreciate what immense responsibility is theirs in setting the example of telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Said an amiable woman to me a few days ago:
"Mrs. Smith, who is a strict Sabbatarian, asked me yesterday if I had ever been to a Sunday reception or tea. Now, while I do not generally approve of them, I do, once in a great while, attend one. But, rather than shock her by acknowledging the offence I lied out of it. It is the only course left for the well-bred in such circumstances."
An hour later I saw her punish her child for denying that she had committed some piece of mischief of which she was guilty. The mother's excuse to herself probably was that the child told a lie, she, a "society fib." Perhaps the smaller sinner had no reputation for breeding to maintain.
The love for drink is not more surely transmitted from father to son than is the habit of lying. Once begun in a family, it rears itself, like a hooded snake, all along the line in generation after generation and appears to be an ineradicable evil. It spreads, too, as specks in a garnered fruit. We are startled by seeing it in children by the time they can lisp a lie, and we note in them, with a sickening at heart, the father's or grandfather's tendency to secretiveness or deceit, or the mother's penchant for false excuses. We can scarcely bequeath a greater sorrow to our offspring than to curse them before their birth with this hereditary taint, which is, perhaps, one of the hardest of all evils to correct. It may take the form of exaggerated speech, of courteous or cowardly prevarication, or of downright falsehood, but, in whatever guise, it is a curse to the owner thereof as well as to his family. If you are so unfortunate as to have any symptom of it in your blood, watch your boy or girl from infancy, and try, by all the arts in your power, fighting against nature itself, even, to prevent what is bred in the bone from coming out in the flesh.
We children of a larger growth can do much toward the correction of this blemish in others as in ourselves by close guard over our own speeches and assertions.
There are no sharper, more intolerant critics than the little ones, and if they inherit the tendency to insincerity the only way in which you can avert the much-to-be dreaded sin is by being absolutely truthful yourself. Cultivate veracity as a virtue, as a grace, as a vital necessity for the integrity of the soul. Prune excrescences in the shape of loose statements; if you err in telling a wonderful story, let it be in cutting down rather than in magnifying. A couple of ciphers less are better than one too many. It is to be feared that for many of us this would be a hard, although a wholesome task. The trail of the serpent is over us all. We yield heedlessly to the temptation to break promises, and to the habit of giving false reasons to our children, little thinking that their grave, innocent eyes may read our souls more clearly than those of older persons who are not so easily deceived by our tongues. When your child, although a mere baby in years, once discovers in you exaggeration or untruthfulness, he remembers it always, and you, from that moment, lose one of the most precious joys and sacred opportunities of your life--that of inspiring his entire confidence and trust, and of leading the tiny feet in the seldom-trodden path of Perfect Truth.