"JACOB ABBOTT, FRIEND OF CHILDREN"
from Silhouettes of My Contemporaries
by Lyman Abbott
Doubleday, Page, 1922.
MY FIRST recollection of my father is
an incident which, though slight, is
very significant of his spirit in dealing
with children. Recovery from scarlet fever
had left me subject to gatherings in the ear
which produced very severe ear-aches. Surgical
operations for such trouble were then unknown.
The only relief obtainable was soaking cotton-wool in laudanum and putting it in the ear to
deaden the pain. My father was living in the
part of New York City now called Greenwich
Village, and, with his brothers, was carrying on
a school for girls in the city. It was quite
essential for his work that he should get his
night's rest. He made a bargain with me: he
would tell me a story for fifteen minutes, then
I was to let him sleep for fifteen minutes, and
so we would go through the night together.
Whether this was done for only one night or many
nights, I do not now recall. By this bargain he
and I became partners; he carried my burden, but
I also did something to carry his burden. He
would help me bear my pain, but he trusted me
to help him get ready for his morrow's work.
This confidence in children and cooperation
with children was one of his distinguishing characteristics. I have known men as fond of
children as my father, but I have never known a
man who had for them such respect. In a true
sense, it might be said that he treated children
as his equals, not through any device or from
any scheme, but spontaneously and naturally.
He trusted the judgment of children, took counsel with them, and in all the matters which
concerned them and their world was greatly
influenced by their judgments. He threw responsibility upon them, great responsibility,
and they realized it.
This respect which he showed to children inspired them with respect for themselves and for
one another. It gave dignity to the children who
came under his influence. That influence was a
masterful one. I should misrepresent him if I
gave the impression that he exercised no authority. On the contrary, his authority was supreme
and final. He gave few commands, but he required prompt, implicit, and unquestioning obedience to those which he did give. I have known
children to disobey him, but I never knew one
to rebel against him. I do not know what would
have happened in case of a rebellion. I think
no child ever thought of it as possible. I never
knew him to strike a blow. I do not recall that
he ever sent a child to his room, or supperless to
bed, or set him to write in his copy book, or
to learn tasks, or resorted to any other of the
similar expedients, necessary perhaps in school,
and frequent in most families. In general, he
simply administered natural penalties. If a
child lied or broke his promises, he was distrusted. If he was careless or negligent, the
things that were given to other children to play
with were withheld from him. If he quarrelled,
he was taken away from his playmates, but
made as happy as he could be made in solitude.
This spirit of respect which my father had for
children interprets his literary method. He
never condescended to children, never talked
down to them or wrote down to them. He believed they could understand large truths if they
were simply and clearly stated. So in "Science
for the Young" he dealt with some of the most
interesting scientific phenomena; in his "Red
Histories" he used biography to make clear the
great historical epochs; in his Young Christian
Series he interpreted some of the profoundest
phases of spiritual experience. This spirit of
confidence determined his style. He never
sought for short and easy words, but selected
what he thought the best word to express his
meaning. The child, he said, will get the meaning of the word from the context, or if he does
not, he will ask his mother what the word means,
and so he will be learning language. He did
not write books about children for grown people
to read. He wrote books for children because
he shared their life with them. Perhaps it is a
son's prejudice, but his books still seem to me
to be among the best of true children's books.
I have been often asked which one of his four
sons was Rollo. The answer is: none of them.
So far as I know, my father never painted a
portrait, never took a single child out of real
life and set him in a story; never made a character to represent a type; never undertook to work
out through fiction the development of a character first philosophically conceived. He wrote
his stories as he might have told them. If
shorthand had been in vogue in his time, and
one could have taken down any story of my
father's as he might have told it to a group of
children gathered about his chair, it would have
been essentially the story as it is published from
his pen. He did not form a plot beforehand.
Each incident led on to the next incident; it
might almost be said that each paragraph led
on to the next paragraph; and when the allotted number of pages was finished, the story
came to its end, much as the story-telling would
come to an end when the clock struck nine and
it was time for the children to go to bed. This
method accounts for the artlessness of his narratives. They are natural portrayals of child life
to children. The only approximation to portrait painting is in "Jonas," "Beechnut," and
"Rainbow." These characters in his stories
used the devices, employed the methods, manifested the spirit which were characteristic of
his dealing with children. To this extent and
to this only can they be called portraits, for in
every other respect they are unlike one another
and quite unlike him.
Let me go back a little and tell how he came to
enter upon his life work—the writing of children's books.
My grandfather gave his five boys a college
and a theological education and then left them
to employ that education as they thought best.
One of them continued a preacher throughout
his life, combining authorship with his pastoral
duties. The others became teachers. My
father accepted a tutorship at Amherst College
almost immediately after his graduation from
Andover Theological Seminary and at the age
of twenty-two was made full professor of mathematics and natural philosophy. In a journal
that he kept during his college days I find
indications of a growing ambition toward authorship. Among these is a plan for an undenominational religious journal of a high character,
though even then his habitual financial caution
shows itself in the question whether such a
journal could be made self-supporting.
Four years later he accepted an invitation to
go to Boston and there organize and carry on a
school for the broader and better education of
girls, one among the first in that movement for
woman's education out of which have grown the
girls' high schools and colleges. He had already in Amherst College tried successfully,
though in a small way, the experiment of self-government; had organized out of the students
a "Fraternity of the Chapel Entry"; put into
their hands the task of seeing that this entry was
kept in order and provided with light and heat;
and had so far enrolled himself as a member of
the Fraternity as to be liable with the others
to assessment for taxes and subject to the rules
which the Fraternity might adopt. This principle of self-government he carried out to a much
greater extent in the Mt. Vernon school, in
Boston, where he left the girls to study by themselves in a common schoolroom without teacher
or monitor, and appointed one of the girls to
manage a simple but ingenious mechanism
which he devised for letting the students know
when the time for recess had come.
Into this school he carried his ministerial
ambitions and gave on Saturday mornings a series
of religious lectures which led afterward to the
publication of the Young Christian Series.*
[*"The Young Christian," "The Corner Stone,"
"The Way to Do Good," "Hoaryhead and McDonner."]
To prepare these lectures, or to write them
in book form for the press, he rose very early in
the morning, and wrote for a couple of hours or
so before his breakfast. His ambition proved
too great for his physique. He resigned and
moved his family to his father's home in Farmington, Maine. He purchased a wild place just
across the road from his father's house, half
sandhill, half marsh, with just room enough between the sandhill and the road for a little
cottage. Here he wrote the Rollo Books
in the mornings, and worked on hill and
marsh in the afternoons. He gradually converted the marsh into a pond; he opened the
sand-bank to the public, and the public carted
so much away that, in time, the grounds about
the house became adequate if not ample; one
hill grew into a grassy slope, the other, turfed
and covered with trees, gave the place its name
of "Little Blue," derived from a mountain
twenty miles away known as "Old Blue." He
redeemed wildness in boy and land by the
same process, working with Nature, and waiting long and patiently for Nature to do her
work. In later life he found equal pleasure in
labouring upon the grounds of the two of his
sons who had country homes; and the recreation
of his declining years was simple but artistic
landscape gardening at Fewacres, the old homestead. It was not enough for him to direct;
he always wished to labour with his own hands.
How often have I heard him say, when compelled
by fatigue to relinquish the spade or pick, "I
wish I could hire someone else's muscles and
use them myself."
The account which Samuel Butler has given of
his own childhood in that tragic story "The Way
of All Flesh" is perhaps an exaggerated account
of an exceptionally unhappy childhood. Yet it
is true that in the first half of the nineteenth
century the more or less deliberate purpose of
religious parents in Puritan households was the
government of the children by fear of a tyranny
which could not be resisted and the suppression
by that government of the natural instincts of
childhood. This purpose found expression in
two popular mottoes: "Children should be
seen and not heard " and "Spare the rod and
spoil the child." Each of these mottoes was
the outward expression of a deep-rooted Puritan
philosophy, which might be expressed thus:
From Adam all his descendants have inherited a
depraved nature. That nature must be eradicated; the child's will broken; his evil tendencies
subdued. Only thus can he become a child of
God. Jesus Christ had said: "Except ye become
as little children, ye cannot enter the Kingdom
of Heaven." Puritan theology had substituted:
"Except ye become as grown-ups, ye cannot
enter the Kingdom." The stories of childish
saints is pathetic; the stories of the painstaking
endeavour by pious parents to make childish
saints is even more pathetic.
Some years ago I went on a boating expedition
in Penobscot Bay. We went ashore to spend
the night in a farmhouse which was hospitably
open to "paying guests." On the parlour table
I found a Sunday-school Story Book, dated
about 1830. A new baby was to be christened.
Her little sister, seven or eight years old, came
aglow with eager expectation to the mother.
"How are you going to dress the baby?" she
asked. "My child," said the pained but patient
mother, "bring me the Prayer Book." It was
brought. "Now read what the God-father says
at the time of the Christening." The child read
"Dost thou, in the name of this child, renounce the devil
and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world,
with all covetous desires of the same, and the sinful desires of
the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow, nor be led by them?
"Answer: I renounce them all; and, by God's help, will
endeavour not to follow, nor be led by them."
"Do you see, my child," said the mother,
"how wicked it is to be thinking of the baby's
dress at such a time? Go to your room and ask
your Heavenly Father to forgive your worldly
and sinful spirit."
My father abhorred controversies of every description and never attacked the current theology
of his time, but all his children's books were based
upon a psychological conception radically different. Toward the close of his life he published
a volume entitled, "Gentle Measures in the
Training of the Young." In this volume he
interprets in a very simple form and with many
concrete illustrations the philosophical principles
on which all his children's books were based.
Whether in 1834, when the first of the Rollo
Books was published, he had defined to himself those principles and wrote his books to
illustrate and enforce them, or whether he
wrote his.. books and carried on his teaching
for nearly forty years and then from his studies of children and his experiments with them
evolved these principles, I do not know. I
think the latter is more probably the truth. If
so, if these principles were deduced from a third
of a century's study and experiment, they are
for that reason all the more valuable to the
fathers and mothers of the present time.
He neither assumed that the child is a little
cherub or a little devil. He assumed that "in
respect of moral conduct as well as of mental
attainments children know nothing when they
come into the world, but have everything to
learn either from the instructions or from the
examples of those around them." Therefore,
the child must be trained to perceive the difference between truth and falsehood, generosity
and selfishness, honesty and dishonesty exactly
as he must be trained to walk or to talk. "The
first time that a child attempts to walk alone
what a feeble, staggering, and awkward exhibition it makes. And yet its mother shows by
the excitement of her countenance and the delight expressed by her exclamations how pleased
she is with the performance." He who really
comprehends this philosophy and accepts it
will realize that to train a child to perceive the
sacredness of truth or recognize the rights of
property requires infinite patience, and that the
first failures of the child's conscience are no more
deserving of punishment in the strict sense of that
term than failures in his first experiments in walking. " The mother is thus to understand that the
principle of obedience is not to be expected to
come by nature into the heart of her child, but
to be implanted by education. She must understand this so fully as to feel that if she finds that
her children are disobedient to her commands—
leaving out of view cases of peculiar and extraordinary temptation—it is her fault, not theirs."
Though training in this spirit rarely, if ever,
calls for punishment, it calls continually for
discipline. The difference between the two is
not in the act of the judge, but in his purpose
and his spirit. I must here condense into a very
few words a distinction to which my father gives
a chapter of his book.
Punishment may be regarded as a penalty demanded by the eternal principles of justice and
the natural consequence of the sin of the transgressor, or it may be considered as a remedial
measure adopted solely to deter from similar
errors or sins in time to come. "According to
the first view, punishment is a penalty which
justice demands as a satisfaction for the past.
According to the other it is a remedy which
goodness devises for the benefit of the future."
Without discussing the question which of these
principles actuates God in his dealing with sin
and the State in dealing with crime, my father
contents himself with the declaration that
"the punishment of a child by a parent, or of a
pupil by a teacher, ought certainly, one would
think, to exclude the element of vindictive retribution altogether, and to be employed solely
with reference to the salutary influence that
may be expected from it in time to come."
With this distinction between punishment demanded by justice and punishment devised by
benevolence my father coupled another—the
difference between instinct and capacities. "The
dog has an instinct impelling him to attach himself to and follow his master; but he has no instinct leading him to draw his master's cart.
He requires no teaching for the one. It comes,
of course, from the connate impulses of his
nature. For the other he requires a skilful and
careful training. . . . So with the child.
If he does not seem to know how to take his food,
or shows no disposition to run to his mother when
he is hurt or when he is frightened, we have reason to suspect something wrong, or, at least,
something abnormal, in his mental or physical
constitution. But if he does not obey his
mother's commands—no matter how insubordinate or unmanageable he may be—the fault
does not, certainly, indicate anything at all
wrong in him. The fault is in his training.
In witnessing his disobedience, our reflection
should be, not 'What a bad boy!' but 'What
an unfaithful or incompetent mother!'"
These two fundamental distinctions must be
borne in mind by any reader who desires to
understand the principles of family and school
government which my father inculcated and
illustrated by his books.
The first lesson a child must learn is obedience.
He comes into a world of law. He neither
knows what the laws are nor why he should obey
them. To the father and the mother is entrusted the duty of teaching these first lessons
There are inexorable laws of nature. He who
does not know and obey these laws may easily
kill himself by a single act of innocent because
ignorant disobedience, and he will be certain to
injure himself by repeated acts of disobedience.
There are unwritten laws of society which will
confront him in the family, in the playground,
and later in social and commercial circles. If
he ignores and disregards them he will soon find
himself a social outcast. His companions will
assume that he knows them and disregards them
deliberately because either of malice or stupidity.
There are laws of the State. If he habitually
ignores or disregards these laws, he may speedily
find himself in prison. Courts will not listen to
his plea that he was ignorant of them. Ignorance is an excuse which the community does not
accept. Nature is pitiless. Society, if not
absolutely pitiless, is wholly unsympathetic.
It is, therefore, the first and most fundamental
duty of the parent to teach the child that he is
not independent; that he cannot live his own
life regardless of other lives; that he must learn
to yield his will to the wills of others and to the
One Supreme Will, if he would live a happy and
a useful life.
But there are comparatively few families in
which this necessity is understood and in which
the children are taught to obey promptly and
without question. In some obedience is not
taught at all; in some it is taught only irregularly
and fitfully; in some disobedience is inculcated
by the constant issuing of commands which there
is no purpose to enforce and the threatening of
penalties which there is no purpose to inflict.
In one of my father's stories he puts the secret
of good government in family or school in four
When you consent, consent cordially.
When you refuse, refuse finally.
When you punish, punish good-naturedly.
Commend often; never scold.
My father's stories for children are largely
employed in illustrating and enforcing these
four principles. I could wish that everyone who
has to do with the government of children
would commit them to memory and would,
from time to time, by these rules test his administration of that government. But he will
find impossible the last two rules unless he believes, with my father, in the truth that the
child is not morally to blame for the failure to
understand moral principles which have never
Josie comes to visit Phonny and Malleville.
Phonny comes up into Beechnut's room, to
which he is confined by a slight illness, and
tells Beechnut that Josie is coming to make him
"Ah!" said Beechnut, "then I must get acquainted with her. And the first thing is to
find out whether I have got to teach her to obey
me, or whether she has learned to obey already."
"How do you think it is?" asked Phonny.
"I think she has not learned to obey," said
"Why not?" asked Phonny.
"Because she is a city girl," said Beechnut,
"and city girls are very seldom taught to obey."
"Why not?" asked Phonny again.
"Oh, because," said Beechnut, "they are put
away from their mother's care and into the care
of nursery-maids so much. The nursery-maids
coax them, and bribe them, and deceive them
—and do everything to them except teach them
simply to obey."
"And how are you going to find out," asked
Phonny, "whether Josie has been taught to
"You will see," said Beechnut.
He finds out in a very simple manner. Josie
starts to open the drawers of the little bureau,
pays no attention to Beechnut's telling her not
to do so and finds the drawers empty.
"Why, Beechnut," said Josie, "what did you
say I must not open these drawers for? There
is nothing in them."
"There is a knob," suggested Malleville.
"Yes; nothing but the knob," said Josie.
"What was the reason?" repeated Josie.
"I had a reason," replied Beechnut.
"What was it?" persisted Josie.
"I know what it was," said Phonny.
"What?" asked Josie.
Phonny hesitated a moment, not being quite
sure whether it would be polite for him to tell
what he thought. At length he said, somewhat
"To see whether you would obey him or not."
"Was that the reason?" asked Josie.
"Yes," said Beechnut.
"Truly!" said Josie.
"Yes," said Beechnut, "really and truly."
Josephine looked a little ashamed and confused when she heard this, but presently recovering herself a little she asked Beechnut what
made him wish to know particularly whether
she would obey him.
"Because," said Beechnut, "I have got a
number of pictures, and picture-books, and
curiosities of various kinds up in my room,
which perhaps it would amuse you to see. I
let children go up and see them sometimes without me if I am only sure beforehand that they
will follow precisely the directions that I give
Josie has thus had an opportunity to learn
her first lesson: obedience is not a door of admission into a prison, it is a door of exit into
liberty; it is an achievement by which one's
powers and privileges are increased. It is curious how slow even philosophy has been to learn
that all our powers over nature have been acquired by intelligent obedience of the laws of
nature, and how, similarly, freedom in the moral
realm is acquired only by voluntary obedience of
the moral laws written in the constitution of man
and of human society. "The first duty," says
my father, "which devolves upon the mother
in the training of her child is the establishment
of her authority over him." . . . "The first
essential condition required for the performance
of this duty is the fixing of the conviction in
her own mind that it is a duty."
The penalty need not be severe. It is not
by the severity but by the certainty of the penalty
that a habit of obedience is developed. But
whatever the penalty, it must not only always be
just, but if possible, such as will seem just to the
child. For the object of the ruler should be
not to suppress, but to develop the child. Not
infrequently in his books my father illustrates
methods by which the cooperation of the child
can be secured in selecting and enforcing discipline. The penalty need not necessarily inflict any pain; since the object is not to deter by
fear, but to secure the aid of the child in future
endeavours to cure his fault, not infrequently the
penalty is even amusing. Phonny in harnessing
the horse which is to take them to ride has failed
to follow Beechnut's directions. Beechnut at
the time says nothing, but after they have started
on their ride he suggests that Phonny would enjoy his ride more if he were first to be punished
for his disobedience. He suggests that Phonny
mount upon the horse with his face toward his
tail and ride in that way for a quarter of a mile.
Phonny accepts the punishment. Malleville
and Phonny are both greatly amused during
the operation, though Phonny's seat proved
to be very uncomfortable.
Though discipline is not always terrifying and
sometimes may even be amusing, it must always
be sufficient at the time to secure obedience.
Severity in punishment is rarely necessary, but
certainty of some punishment is necessary. And
no inconvenience that the enforcement of law
may occasion to the parent or teacher furnishes
any excuse for allowing disobedience to pass
without such penalty as the circumstances may
Jonas, with three boys, is sailing on a pond
to take some grain to the mill. Jonas is in command of the expedition. Josey, who has not yet
learned to obey, disregards Jonas's directions, and
undertakes to go forward to take a seat which
Jonas has assigned to another boy. As he starts
to go forward Jonas with his paddle brings
the boat around. The boom comes thumping
against Josey's head and shoulders and he sinks
down into the bottom of the boat to get out of
the way. "What was that for?" asks Josey.
"I am going to put you ashore," replied Jonas.
"Me ashore!" repeated Josey, more and more
surprised. He looked forward, and saw that
the boat was now pointed toward the shore, at
a place on the back side of the point of land
which they had just passed.
"Yes," said Jonas, "the only way, when we
have an unmanageable passenger on board,
is to put him ashore upon the nearest land."
. . . "But what shall I do," said he, "if you
put me ashore?"
"You can either walk home, or wait there till
we come back from the mill. I'll call for you
when I come back."
The other two boys finally interceded for
Josey, and Jonas, with some hesitation, accedes
to their request. But Josey had learned his
lesson that "there is no getting along out at sea
without obeying the commander."
The reader will observe another element in
this incident: Jonas is sustained by the public
opinion of the community, that is, by the other
two boys. I am almost inclined to the opinion
that all rebellion against government, whether
in school, factory, or nation, is partly due to the
fault of the governor. My father was professor in a college and three times principal in
schools of considerable size, and so far as I know,
never had the slightest difficulty in enforcing law
and maintaining order. The reason, I think,
was that he was always supported in his administration by the public opinion of the students.
Government by force over an objecting population is always a despotism, though it may be a
benevolent despotism. My father was constitutionally a democrat, that is, a believer in
self-government, and it was because he believed
in self-government that he laid stress upon the
duty of the parent and the teacher, to maintain
his authority by so exercising it as to develop
self-control in his subjects.
The last ten years of his life my father spent
quietly with his two sisters in what had been his
father's home in Farmington, Maine. Here his
children and grandchildren delighted to visit
him; here he organized a school of a unique character composed of his grandchildren and some
of their playmates. Admission to this school
was by invitation. There were no fees and no
entrance examinations, and attendance was
voluntary. But if the child entered the school
it was as a loyal subject of an educational commonwealth. He could not be sometimes a citizen
and sometimes an alien. To be admitted to this
school was accounted, by its pupils, a high privilege. One of these pupils has written for me,
at my request, the following reminiscence which
will give to the readers not only a graphic picture
of the school, but an interesting illustration of
my father's method.
"When I was a boy, ten or eleven years of age,
I spent one winter and a part of two summers,
I think, with my grandfather, Jacob Abbott, at
his home in Farmington, Maine, carrying on my
studies under his supervision.
"No elements of knowledge seemed to him
too abstract or difficult to interest a child, and
his methods of teaching were such that they did
interest the children. I studied with him, for
example, some of the simple problems of Euclidean geometry, and for many years kept the
blank books in which I had drawn my diagrams
and written my demonstrations. His method
was to make every study apply in some way or
other to the actual life round about us. Two instances illustrating this method of teaching have
remained in my memory for fifty years. I was
studying arithmetic and came to percentage.
Now my experience with my own children is
that percentage as ordinarily taught in the
schools is a horrible bore. It means learning
rules by rote with very little conception of the
practical use and operation of percentage. My
grandfather solved the difficulty in this way.
When we came to percentage he entrusted me
with the duty of making his deposits, cheques
and cash, in the village bank, which was about
half a mile away. I had to write out the deposit
slips and take the pass book and have the proper
entry made. He made a contract with me that
I was to be paid for this work on a percentage
basis. I do not remember what the rate was,
but let us say it was a quarter of 1 per cent.
or a tenth of 1 per cent. If the latter was the
rate I therefore got ten cents for making a deposit of one hundred dollars, or a fraction of ten
cents for a lesser sum. Both the purpose and
operation of percentage were thus fixed in my
mind and by a process which was the very reverse of boresome.
"In a garden adjoining the house there was a
martin box, that is to say a bird-house rather
elaborately built on the top of a tall painted
pole, to house the martins, a bird of the swallow
family which frequents parts of New England
and is welcomed by the householders both because it is picturesque in its swooping flight
and because it clears the garden of insects and
worms. One day a conversation like this took
place between my grandfather and myself, my
grandfather being at that time a man of about
sixty-five years of age:
"Grandfather. L., how would you like to
measure the height of a martin pole without getting within twenty-five feet of it?
"L. Pooh! It can't be done.
"Grandfather. Yes, I think you could do it if
you are willing to take a little pains.
"L. Do you really think I could do it?
"Grandfather. Yes, I think you can if you are
willing to take the pains that surveyors take
when they build a railroad.
"L. Do they have to measure things without
going near them?
"Grandfather. Yes, they have to measure
the height of precipices, sometimes of mountains.
"L. (His curiosity now somewhat excited).
How do they do that?
"Grandfather. By what is called triangulation
and by using some interesting tables of figures
"To make a long story short, I was enticed by
this method into studying the very simple elements of surveying, and I did measure the height
of a martin pole and used a logarithm table in
the process. Instead of being a dry-as-dust
study which I rebelled against, it was transformed into a game which I really enjoyed.
In the same way my elemental French and elemental Latin were applied to the objects and
the life round about us. My grandfather was,
I think, one of the pioneers in this country in
the application of this principle of interesting
the child in its studies.
"Quarrels and controversies between the
grandchildren or the village children who
came to Fewacres to play were settled by the
application of this principle. A court would be
organized, one of the quarrellers would be the
plaintiff, the other the defendant. Witnesses
would be summoned; a small jury would be
empanelled and my grandfather would be
the judge. If the defendant was found guilty
he usually was punished by a fine of some kind,
perhaps suggested by the judge, but generally
determined by the jury. If it was a quarrel
over a swing, for example, and the defendant
was found guilty he might be sentenced not
to use the swing for an hour or for a day, as
the case might be, and the police who were duly
appointed among the children were expected to
see that the sentence was carried out. The result
was that Fewacres was not only the favourite resort of the grandchildren, but the favourite
resort of many of the village children, who, I
am sure, like myself, had impressed upon their
minds, although wholly subconsciously, some of
the elemental principles of science and government that were very useful to them in after
Another grandchild has told me that a bank
was organized with a president, a board of
directors, a cashier, and a teller, in which
ivory counters served as coin. Bank bills were
issued, promissory notes were discounted, and
all the ordinary operations of banking were carried on in what was at once a game and a study.
My father used a very simple method to teach
the children the difference between labour and
commodities, a difference which even to this
day some larger employers of labour appear
not to comprehend. "Grandfather," says my
informant, "would send two of us into the village to make a purchase for him. Sometimes
he would tell us that if we would get the needed
article he would purchase it from us, in which
case, we sold it to him at a small profit, but if
we could not get the article at the stores, we got
nothing for our errand. Sometimes he would
employ us to do the errand and then we were
paid whether we succeeded or failed."
My father accumulated few books and nothing
that could be called a library, but his method
of using books was of a great service to his neighbours. There is an excellent village library in
Farmington and its catalogue shows large and
constant contributions from Fewacres, which include many of which my father was the author.
He also sent periodically to this library the
weekly papers and monthly magazines after their
immediate use by the Fewacres' household. He
took no active part in church affairs, and I do
not think ever attended the monthly meeting
for the transaction of church business. But he
habitually attended the church service on Sunday
mornings, where his presence was an inspiration
to the preacher. His pastor, the Reverend
George N. Marden, subsequently a professor in
Colorado College, in a manuscript account of his
recollections of my father, says, "Before me, at
this moment, lies a note from his hand, in which,
with a modest apology, he refers to the sermon
of the previous day as likely to call forth various
opinions and states that he wishes to state his
own decided approbation." In such simple and
characteristic ways as this, he showed himself
to be an appreciative rather than a critical
He did not take any active part in village politics and never, so far as I know, any other active
part than that of a voter in the politics of
either the state or the nation. But his view of
what was due to the Government under which
he lived is indicated by an incident which Mr.
Marden relates: "Mr. Abbott's sterling integritiy
as a citizen was illustrated when having changed
his legal residence from New York to Farmington he stated the amount of his taxable property.
The astonished assessor exclaimed, 'Why, Mr.
Abbott, if you are assessed on this entire sum
you will pay a larger tax than any man in Farmington, you will pay more than your share.'
Mr. Abbott quietly replied, 'I know but one
way of stating the amount of my taxable property and that is to state it just as it is."'
Thus my father spent his last years peacefully
and quietly in his old home, honoured by his
fellow-citizens, adored by the children. He
died in 1879 in the seventy-sixth year of his
age. His youngest son and I were with him
at the time of his death. My brother, who was
stronger than I, lifted my father up during a
paroxysm of pain and then laid him down again
upon the pillow, saying to him, "Are you more
comfortable now. Father?" and received the
whispered answer, "Too comfortable. I hoped
that I was going." These were, I think, his
In his preface to the Franconia Stories my
father states the principle by which he has been
guided in all his story-writing for children:
"The development of the moral sentiments in
the human heart, in early life—and everything,
in fact, which relates to the formation of character—is determined in a far greater degree by
sympathy, and by the influence of example,
than by formal precepts and didactic instruction." . . . "It is in accordance with this
philosophy that these stories, though written
mainly with a view to their moral influence on the
hearts and dispositions of the readers, contain
very little formal exhortation and instruction."
Therefore, in his stories for children, my
father's religious teaching was implied, rather
than directly expressed; but it was not less effective for that reason. To his Christian faith he
has given expression in the Young Christian
Series, though even in those volumes it is expressed, never in the abstract terms of scholastic
theology, but in dramatic forms and by simple illustrations taken from our common life.
Faith in a Heavenly Father as a friend and
companion made known to us by the human
life of Jesus of Nazareth, and a supreme desire
to know his will, deserve his confidence, and
cooperate with him in his work, were the secrets
of my father's religious experience, the foundation of his theological philosophy, and the inspiration of his life-long industry. This simple
creed I have inherited from him. It has been
the substance and the inspiration of my teaching for over three quarters of a century, and for
it I am indebted to lessons received and spirit
imbibed from the author of the Rollo Books, the
Franconia Stories, and the Young Christian
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