The road to perdition is paved with nature study

I am a couple of weeks late for Mother’s Day, but here’s some timeless if not timely advice for those of you who are mothers, or who have mothers, or who know of someone who is or has a mother.

Persons never become so very wicked all at once. They go on from step to step, in disobedience and ingratitude, till they lose all feeling, and can see their parents weep, and even die in their grief, without a tear.

Perhaps, one pleasant day, this mother sent her little daughter to school. She took her books, and walked along, admiring the beautiful sunshine, and the green and pleasant fields. She stopped one moment to pick a flower, again to chase a butterfly, and again to listen to a little robin, pouring out its clear notes upon the bough of some lofty tree. It seemed so pleasant to be playing in the fields, that she was unwilling to go promptly to school. She thought it would not be very wrong to play a little while. Thus she commenced. The next day she ventured to chase the butterflies farther, and to rove more extensively through the field in search of flowers. And as she played by the pebbles in the clear brook of rippling water, she forgot how fast the time was passing. And when she afterwards hastened to school, and was asked why she was so late, to conceal her fault she was guilty of falsehood, and said that her mother wanted her at home. Thus she advanced, rapidly in crime. Her lessons were neglected. She loved the fields better than her book, and would often spend the whole morning idle, under the shade of some tree, when her mother thought her safe in school. Having thus become a truant and a deceiver, she was prepared for any crimes. Good children would not associate with her, and consequently she had to choose the worst for her companions and her friends. She learned wicked language; she was rude and vulgar in her manners; she indulged ungovernable passion; and at last grew so bad, that when her family afterwards removed to the city, the House of Correction became her ignominious home. And there she is now, guilty and wretched. And her poor mother, in her solitary dwelling, is weeping over her daughter’s disgrace. Who can comfort such a mother? Where is there any earthly joy to which she can look? John S. C. Abbott, The Child at Home: The Principles of Filial Duty, Familiarly Illustrated (New York: Published by the American Tract Society, 1833).

Do not, in short, stop to chase butterflies and listen to birdsong, lest you end in ignominy and your mother die of grief. Consider the lilies of the field, but don’t be too long about it: You, my friend, have toiling and spinning to do, and don’t you forget it.

Anyway, at least now I have an excuse for my rude and vulgar manners.