“It is at home that the ruin of a soul begins.” “At home!” We hear the response in tones of pained surprise or indignant denial from many voices. “It is a hard saying and cruel.” “It may hurt like a blow many sad hearts; but if it be true—what then?”
“It is not true! I can point you to a dozen cases within my own range of observation to disprove the assertion—to young men who have gone astray in spite of careful training and good example of religious homes—in spite of all the best of mothers and the wisest of fathers could do.”
Yes, we have such things said every day; but feel certain there is an error somewhere, a defect in your observation. Were you in the homes of these young men from the beginning? Did you observe the personal bearing of their parents toward them—know their walk and conversation? If nay, then you are not competent, with your instances, to disprove our assertion.
A small error at the beginning of a series of calculations in applied mechanics may lead to a great disaster; the slightest variation from a right line at the beginning will throw a projectile hundreds of yards away from its object. It is in the little things at home, the almost unnoticed departures from order and good government, the neglects arising from parental self-indulgence, the weakness of love that fails to nip a fault in the bud; and many other things that might be instanced, which turn the young feet into ways of life that as the years go by, lead farther and farther from safety and happiness.
The Bible experience, and reason all declare that the future of a child depends upon his early training. If this is bad, the chances are nearly all against him.
“But,” we hear it said, “children raised under the worst influences often make good and useful men.”
The cases are exceptional, and stand out in strong contrast to the general rule. And so we go back to what was declared in the beginning, that the ruin of a soul begins at home. How many instances crowd upon the memory! Let us take a few at this time for their lesson and their warning.
Not long ago, in one of our principle cities, an almost broken-hearted mother parted from her son in the court-house, and was taken fainting to her home, while he was thrust into a van and conveyed to prison. His crime was stealing. Society held up his hands in pity and amazement, for the young man’s father and mother were highly respected able people, and good church members, as the saying is. The father’s business reputation stood high. People said of him: “His word is as good as his bond.” And yet his son was a condemned thief. He had stolen from his employer.
Did the ruin in this case begin at home?—Yes! It was at home the son learned to be dishonest, and he learned it from his mother! Let us rehearse some of the lessons, in precept and example, that were given to the boy, We begin when he was just five years of age. The boy, Karl, was standing near his mother, Mrs. Omdorff, one day, when he heard her say to his aunt: “Barker has cheated himself. Here are four yards of ribbon, instead of three. I asked for three yards, and paid only for three; but this measures four full yards.”
The boy listened and waited for what was to come next. He loved his mother, and trusted in her.
“What are you going to do about it?” inquired the aunt.
”Keep it, of course,” answered Mrs. Omdorff; “Barker will never be the wiser. He makes enough out of us, dear know.” And she rolled the ribbon about her fingers.
Karl was a little surprised. It did not seem like his mother, nor in accordance with what she often said to him about truth and honesty, but he had faith in her, and was sure that she could do nothing wrong. His Aunt Ruth, of whom he was very fond, and who had great influence over him, was a weak woman in some respects, and much more inclined to take the current of another’s opinions than to give herself the trouble of opposition. Her innate sense of honor was a little disturbed at her sister’s views of the case; but she failed to say the right words which were in her thoughts, and which, if spoken, might have helped the boy to see what was just and right.
A day or two afterward, Karl heard his mother say; “I saved a car ticket this morning.”
“How?” inquired her sister.
“The conductor forgot to ask for it.”
“Why didn’t you give it to him, mamma?” asked Karl.
It was his business to look after his passengers,” replied Mrs. Omdorff, who felt rather uncomfortable at this question from her little boy. “It will teach him a lesson.”
Karl thought a moment, and then said: ”But he won’t know anything about it.”
“Oh, you’re too sharp!” exclaimed his mother, with a laugh. I wasn’t talking to you anyhow.”
“Little pitchers have big ears,” said Aunt Ruth, echoing her sister’s laugh.
And so the matter was pushed aside, neither mother nor aunt imagining that the bright and beautiful boy they both loved so tenderly had received a lesson in dishonesty not soon to be forgotten.
“I do believe, said Mrs. Omdorff, not long afterward, as she sat counting over her some of money, that Poole has given me the wrong change.”
“Karl was in the room and heard her remark.
“Let me see,” she added, going over the money again. “Two and a half, three, four and three-quarters. It’s a fact; I gave him a ten dollar bill, and here are four and three-quarter change.”
“What did the goods amount to?” asked her sister.
“There were eleven yards of muslin at eighteen; that’s a dollar and ninety-eight cents. Two yards of silk at a dollar and a half, and an eighth of a yard of velvet one dollar—making just five dollars and ninety-eight cents. If it had come to six dollars, my right change would have been four; but he has given me four and three-quarters.”
Then in a tone of satisfaction, she added: “I’m that much richer, you see, Ruth.”
Her sister smiled, but did not utter the disapproval that was in her heart. Karl listened and took all in. A little while afterward Mrs. Omdorff got up and rang the bell, saying, as she did so, with a short gurgling laugh, that seemed ashamed of itself: “I guess we’ll have a little ice cream—at Pool’s expense.”
Aunt Ruth shook her finger, and said feebly: “Oh, that’s too bad!” But Karl was not able to see whether she approved or disapproved. The ice-cream was sent for, and enjoyed by the child. While the sweet taste was yet on his tongue, he heard his mother say: “I’m very much obliged to Poole for his treat—it’s delicious.”
Is it strange that the boy’s perception of right and wrong should be obscured? Or that, in a day or two afterward, he should come in from the street with an orange in his hand, and, on being questioned about it, reply: A woman let it drop from her basket, and I picked it up.
“But why didn’t you call after her?” asked Aunt Ruth.
“ ’Cause I didn’t want to,” answered the child. “She dropped it. I didn’t knock it off.”
Mrs. Omdorff was not satisfied with the conduct of her child; and yet she was amused at what she called his cuteness, and laughed instead of reproving him for an act that was in spirit a theft.
So the child’s education for crime was begun—his ruin initiated. The low moral sense of his mother was perpetually showing itself in some disregard for others’ rights. A mistake made in her favor was never voluntarily corrected, and her pleasure at any gain of this kind was rarely concealed. “He cheated himself,” was a favorite saying, heard by Karl almost every week; and as he grew older he understood its meaning more clearly.
Mr. Omdorff was a man of higher integrity than his wife and just in dealing to the smallest fraction. Foolish about little things—more nice than wise,” as she often said, when he disapproved of her way of doing things, as was sometimes the case. Mrs. Omdorff had learned to be guarded in her speech when he was at home; and so he remained in ignorance of the fatal perversions going on in the mind of his child.
As the boy grew up his father’s supervision became more direct. He was careful about his associates, and never permitted him to be away from home, without knowing where and with whom he was. He knew but too well the danger of evil association; and guarded his boy with jealous solicitude.
Alas! He dreamed not of the evil influence at home; never imagined that the mother was destroying in her son that nice sense of honor without which no one is safe; not that she had taught him to disregard the rights of others, to take mean advantages, and to appropriate what did not belong to him when ever it could be done with absolute certainty of concealment.
We do not mean to say that such were the direct and proposed teachings of his mother. She would have been horror stricken at the mere suggestion. But she had so taught him by example. In heart she was not honest; and in many of her transactions she was as much a thief as if she had robbed a till. Retaining what belongs to another, simply because it has come into our hands by mistake, is as much a thief in its spirit as purposed stealing; and the fine lady who keeps the change to which she is not entitled, or the yard of ribbon measured to her in error, is just as criminal, as the sneak-thief who gets into her hall through a neglected door and steals her husbands overcoat. The real quality of an act lies in the intent.
It is my wonder that amid such home influences the boy did not show, as he advanced toward maturity, a high sense of honor? That he should be mean and selfish and dishonest in little things? “As the twig is bent the tree is inclined.” Evil seed will produce evil fruit.
Society punished and execrated the unhappy young man, and pitied his wretched mother, little dreaming that by her hand his prison doors had been opened.
Another instance of the baneful influence that may exist at home is to be found in the ruin of a young man who recently died in one of the lowest and vilest haunts of the city. He had been well educated, and grew to manhood with a fine sense of honor. His mother was a woman of rare culture, and beloved of every one in the circle where she moved. All the moral sentiments of her son had been carefully fostered and developed, and when he reached manhood no one showed a fairer promise.
But it was not long before a shadow fell across his life. He had learned one thing at home that was destined to work his ruin—he had learned to love the taste of wine.
His father belonged to a class of men who considered wine-drinking a mark of good breeding. He knew all about wines, and had a weak vanity in being thought a connoisseur. If he had a friend to dinner, he would bring out two or three kinds, and discuss them through half the meal. He called the men who were ranging themselves against the terrible evil of intemperance, and seeking to stay its baleful course, “poor fanatics.” He talked of pure wines and liquors as harmless, and gave them to his son at suitable times and occasions, moderately; only guarding him by warnings of excess.
But these warnings went for nothing as appetite increased. At twelve years of age the boy was content with a single glass of light wine at dinner; at eighteen he wanted two glasses, and at twenty-one three. By this time he had acquired convivial habits, and often drank freely with other young men of his age. His mother was the first to take the alarm; but his father was slow to believe that his son was in danger. The sad truth broke upon him at last in a painful humiliation. In a large party in his own house the young man became so badly intoxicated that he had to be removed from the company.
From that unhappy period wine was banished from the father’s table. But it was too late. The work of ruin had progressed too far. At twenty-seven the wretched young man died, as we have said, in one of the lowest and vilest dens of the city.
We could give many instances like this. Here at home, is the chief source of the wide-spread ruin by intemperance, that is every year robbing society of thousands of young men, who by education, culture, and social standing are fitted for useful and honorable positions. They are ruined at home. Not in one case in ten does a young man acquire the taste for drink in a saloon or tavern, but at home, in that of some friend. We fear that the drinking saloons men set up in their drawing-rooms, and to which they invite the young and old of both sexes, do more to deprave the taste and lead to intemperance than all the licensed taverns in the land. It is here that the appetite is formed and fostered—here that the apprenticeship to drunkenness is served. Year by year the sons of our wealthiest and most intelligent and influential citizens are tempted and led astray by the drinking customs of society—ruined at home. How few of the sons of successful men rise to the level their fathers have gained. How many, alas! Sink so far below this level that the eyes ache to look down upon them!
GOOD-BYE—GOD BLESS YOU!
I love the words—perhaps because
When I was leaving mother
Standing at last in solemn pause
We looked at one another
And I--I saw in mother’s eyes
The love she could not tell me
A love eternal as the skies
Whatever fate befell me.
She put her arms about my neck
And soothed the pain of leaving
And though her heart was like to break
She spoke no word of grieving
She let no tear bedim her eye
For fear that might distress me
But, kissing me, she said goodbye
And asked our God to bless me.