“Moral Poisons: The Antidote,” by F. C. W. (from The Mother’s Magazine, May 1845; pp. 148-152)
Under the general caption of “Moral Poisons,” I have, in this Magazine, repeatedly called the attention of parents to the corrupting influence upon the morals of children and youth of a great portion of the light literature of the day. I propose in the present number to make a suggestion or two in relation to the ANTIDOTE—the only efficient and practical antidote—for these poisons. I do not hesitate to direct these suggestions to parents; for on them mainly rests the responsibility either of fostering and furnishing means for gratifying a depraved literary taste in the young, or of forming a better taste and applying a remedy where the mind is already vitiated. It becomes then, to them, a most interesting and solemn question what is the duty of Christians and philan-
thropists who sustain the relation of fathers and mothers, in view of the danger to be apprehended from impure light reading?
1. Parents must teach sound principles to their children on this subject.
They must show them the evils attending the reading of the fashionable novels of the day, and other vicious works of the lighter order. This can be done. Nothing is more practicable. One single number of that excellent monthly sheet published by the American Tract Society—the “American Messenger,”—one of the principal aims of which is to show the evils of impure literature, will furnish ready for your use ample evidence from their nature, that these words are coals of fire, and that the mind cannot come in contact with them without fearful danger of being burned. It will do more. It will point to authentic facts, and show what is more to the purpose than all the theories we may have on this subject, that many a youth has had his imagination influenced by these vicious novels, and that, through their influence, he has been ruined, temporarily and eternally.
Children have a conscience in relation to this matter, and that conscience can be reached, if the proper means are employed. They have hopes and fears respecting the formation of character; and to these hopes and fears every intelligent and [ju]dicious parent can successfully appeal. I saw this position verified a few days since. A young lady of my acquaintance had read one of the most objectionable of Eugene Sue’s novels, and although she acknowledged there were some features in the work from which the eye of virtue turned away in pain, yet, on the whole, she thought it might be safely read by those whose principles were firmly established, and in that class she ranked herself. She declared unhesitatingly that she felt no evil resulting from their perusal, and that she must be indulged in this amusement. I remonstrated with her seriously, yet kindly, and appealed to her conscience and to her fears. I thank God that these re-
monstrances were heeded. She promised me voluntarily, that she would never read another novel of that class.
I know another recent case in point. A pious mother learned with pain that a son had clandestinely obtained several of Bulwer’s novels, and had read them. The young man was not a professor of religion; yet this godly mother made him feel that by the perusal of these works of fiction, he was striving against the Spirit, and placing formidable barriers in the way of his salvation. She showed him that the code of morals which is inculcated by Edward Bulwer and those of his school, was drawn up by the arch-deceiver, and that just so far as they exerted their legitimate influence, they were calculated to educate the soul for the pit from which they were imported. “I know it, I feel it,” said the young man. “I was sensible of it while I read these novels. They afford a pleasant amusement; but I will not hazard the welfare of my soul for a momentary pleasure. I will read no more.”
There cannot be a doubt that many of the evils which now flow from a poisoned literature would be averted, if parents would faithfully and affectionately inculcate right principles on the subject to their children, and substantiate these principles by facts which have come under their own observation, or are well authenticated by others.
2. Parents must act the part of censors over the books and periodicals which are candidates for favor in their families.
I am aware that to some this will see tyrannical and overbearing, and I admit that moral suasion in this case, as in every other, is preferable to coercion, if it is effectual. But if advice does not succeed, I am confident a sound and healthful domestic discipline calls imperiously for something more.
The objections to such a censorship are so plausible and so prevalent, that it may be well to look at the matter somewhat in detail. It is said, that when we prescribe to our children what they shall and what they shall not read, we assume a lordship over their consciences. We think other-
wise. We do not tell our children what they shall believe in matters affecting their eternal interests. We do not make it criminal in them to differ from us in opinion, if they see reason for such a difference. We simply state to them the truth. We know that there are certain agents, which, when they act at all upon the soul, work in it moral death. We warn our children against them, and if warning and entreaties are not sufficient, forbid them employing means which will draw them away from God and heaven. Is this lording it over the conscience? Can a consistent parents, the heaven-constituted guardian of the temporal and eternal interests of his children, do less than this? Nay, will not the frown of God rest upon that parent if he do not so far “command his children and his household after him?” If a son or a daughter persists in taking arsenic, after a parent’s affectionate and earnest counsels to the contrary, is it not plainly the duty of that parent to restrain his child, if he can do so, by a positive command? But arsenic is no more poisonous to the physical constitution, than are some of the fashionable novels which find their way into hundreds of families, to the morals of thousands of youth who read them. If a prohibition is proper in the former case, by what logic can it be made to appear that it is not proper in the latter? Are physical evils more to be dreaded than moral evils? Is the body, then, of more consequence than the spirit?
But we are told that this censorship on the part of the parent can only be maintained on the assumption that the judgment of the parent is infallible. This is in effect the same as to affirm that parental restraint must never be exercised, unless there be such infallibility. Why is not the objection raised in other circumstances—for instance, when the parent requires his children to attend family worship, when they are disinclined, or to visit with him the house of God? Does any one contend that this is an unwarrantable dictation, or that there is in it an arrogance of infalliblity?
The truth is, God has committed the keeping of the immortal spirit, during the green and tender period of child-
hood and early youth, in an important sense, to the parent; and it is a duty than which none is more solemn and binding, to train up that child in the way he should go, that when he is old he may not depart from it. Neither the father nor mother is infallible. But they are to look to God for direction, and then act according to their judgment and the dictates of an enlightened conscience. No sensible and judicious man or woman can err in regard to the general principle which ought to govern them in the selection of literary reading for their families, though they may be wrong in relation to some of the unimportant details of that principle. But however they may err respecting these details, God calls upon them to stand up fearlessly and firmly for the defence of this principle in their households. To allow the soul of the child of their fondest love, and the object of their most fervent prayers, to be contaminated by the foul breath that is exhaled from the pages of a licentious romance, is to prove a traitor to one of the highest, noblest, and most responsible trusts which Jehovah ever confided to man.
But I must drop the subject here somewhat abruptly—for I am breaking over the bounds assigned for the length of a single article—and reserve some additional thoughts which I wish to present for another number. I hope my readers are not weary of this discussion. If some of them are, I beg them to bear with me, for I assure them there are fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters, and the number is not few, who feel deeply on this subject; and who, while they point to the victims of this soul-destroyer in the shape of a poisoned literature—victims among their own kindred and at their own firesides—lift up the imploring hand, and with tears beg of the directors of the press to speak out on this subject, to sound the note of alarm, and suggestion an effective remedy.
“Moral Poisons: The Antidote,” part two, by F. C. W. (from The Mother’s Magazine, June 1845; pp. 184-188)
In a former number of the Magazine, some suggestions were made to parents in view of the evils the existence of which is so generally admitted, resulting from the great mass of the fashionable light reading of the day. That scores of romances which are thrown out upon the community from the presses of those who call themselves disciples of Christ, are as poisonous to the mind and morals as arsenic is to the physical constitution, can hardly be denied by thinking moral men and women, much less by sober and judicious Christians. The great question then is—and it is one which many virtuous minds are agitating with intense anxiety, and which enlists the sympathies of many devout hearts—what shall be done in view of these evils?—especially, what shall be done by parents to preserve the minds of their offspring uncorrupted from a literature with the outward semblance of refinement and virtue, perhaps of religion; but dispensing from its pages the elements of moral death?
We suppose the world must be cursed with these novels, at least for the present. We are not so near a literary mille-
nium [sic] yet, as to warrant the hope that we are soon to see the end of these plagues. There is so much selfishness and so much impurity in the human heart, that we cannot reasonably expect that the plague-spots will entirely disappear from our polite literature. Well, be it so, if it must. The Lord reigneth, and we may hope for an entire renovation at some future day. But if the poison must exist, and if it must be diffused through the community, the Christian and the philanthropist must seek for an antidote, and conscientiously and fearlessly employ it in their families. They must deal with the evil as they would with the Asiatic cholera or the plague—if they cannot annihilate it, they must resist its influence and apply the remedy.
On this subject—the remedy for the evils resulting from a corrupt light literature—I shall in the present number suggest a few hints to parents in addition to those which have already appeared, and tending to the same point.
3. Parents must labor to form a correct literary taste in the minds of their children.
Taste and fashion are often at antipodes: and it is no evidence that a custom is in accordance with the principles of a pure taste, because it is fashionable. Fashion is subject to the whims and caprices of men and women not under the influence of moral principle. It is unstable as water, and fitful as the wind. Taste, though arbitrary in some of its details, is, in its essential elements, governed by fixed principles and accords with the immutable laws of mind. Fashion may harmonize with morality and religion, or it may not. Taste has no affinity for vice, and coalesces with nothing so well as with the religion of the cross.
Now the youth of our day may form a pure literary taste or a vitiated one; and it depends not a little upon the parent whether it shall be the former or the latter. The child should be taught that taste and fashion in the light literature of the day have been divorced, and that many of the most fashionable issues of the press in this department are directly opposed to taste. It needs but little logic, surely, to show that
the efforts of Bulwer, and Maryatt, and Dickens, to say nothing of the French school of novels, not less fashionable and more corrupting to the morals, are not in accordance with the principles of pure taste. The double entendre, the indelicate hint which brings the blush on the cheek of female purity, are not in good taste. The obscene jest, the blasphemous oath, the bar-room conversation, the cant phrases of the mob, the low dialect of hangers-on, and moral excrescences of society, are not in good taste; and this can easily be made to appear, if the mind be instructed early. If fashion has excluded its influence for years—if the imagination has become polluted and taste vitiated—if the tears have long been allowed to flow for the depraved hero or heroine of a despicable two-shilling novel—if the soul has been taught to revere and pity,—and were a fiend from the pit, a mysterious gentleman, with a superior intelligence, polished manners, fine sensibilities, stern, almost ascetic ostensible morality, and christened Eugene Aram, or whatever may suit the novelist’s fancy,—then indeed it may be more difficult to form a correct literary taste, or more properly, to reform a vitiated one. But if the work be commenced in season, and proper models are placed in the hands of the young, a pure and healthful taste will be formed, so that there shall be no appetite for the poisoned and poisonous stimulants with which our modern polite literature abounds.
4. Parents must encourage the efforts of those who are laboring to reform the fashionable literature of the day.
No one needs to be told that men—intelligent, judicious, competent men—have enlisted in this cause, and that they have pledged themselves to devote all the means with which Providence has entrusted them to infuse the leaven of morality, virtue and religion into works of taste intended for the young. Now it is very pleasant for these authors, editors and publishers, to hear words of encouragement from hundreds of fathers and mothers. They are doubtless very grateful for such an evidence that their labors are appreciat-
ed. But words are very cheap, and comparatively they are not worth much. All the words in Webster’s quarto Dictionary would not defray the expense of the Poets of America, or pay for the embellishments in one of our elegant, dignified, well-conducted monthly magazines. There must be a feeling on the part of parents too strong to be content with words, or a moral renovation such as we desire can never be effected.
Parents—men and women who have become alarmed in a measure in view of the evils of a poisoned literature, and who are possessed of pecuniary means, though it grieves us to say it—have not brought the conscience to bear upon this matter. They rejoice mightily that books, newspapers, and magazines are multiplied which are elegant and tasteful in a literary and mechanical point of view, while they are calculated to instruct the mind, improve the morals, and sanctify the heart. But there, too often, the matter is allowed to rest. Ask them to take a moral or religious weekly paper, and the first question is, “What does it cost?” If the cost is more than that of another candidate for their favor, abounding in corrupting police reports, and articles the sole object of which is to excite a laugh at the expense of sound morality and vital religion, that is enough to condemn it. They patronize the one, because it is less expensive, and discard the other, because they cannot afford it!
The affectionate father cannot afford an innocent and healthful aliment for his family—it costs more than poison—he thinks well enough of the former—no doubt it is a very good thing—but then it costs too much; and so, with many kind wishes for the success of the good men who are laboring to sanctify the press, he goes to the shop of a literary druggist—an unsanctified reckless empiric—and asks him if he will be so kind as to compound for him, fifty-two doses of his poison, and send one of those doses weekly to his dwelling, for the use of his children!
Just so with the fashionable monthly issued of the press. A devoted mother procures for her family a magazine of
which the least we can say is, that it weakens the mind, and tends to make the heart worse rather than better. The mother is aware of its mischievous influence upon her daughters. She is shown a magazine combining all its excellences in sentiment, style and beauty of exterior, but without any of its defects; and she is pleased with it. She is half inclined to patronize this, and banish its rival from the house. But then she thinks, indeed she is almost sure that the engravings in the new candidate are not quite so well executed as they are in the other, and she wishes it could be afforded a little lower—she supposes it will be improved in its appearance, and presumes it will be less expensive when it is more generally patronized; and she thinks she will certainly introduce it into her family then—at present, she regrets that she is unable to do so! In other words, she will go on fostering a depraved appetite in her daughters, though it may in the end ruin them for time and for eternity, until the increased patronage of the new magazine will enable the publisher to pay for a few strokes more of the graver, and afford his work for a few cents less! O the omnipotence of the love of money!
Christian parent, will you allow the paltry consideration of dollars and cents—will you allow any consideration to hinder you from doing anything in your power to furnish a pure and healthful literature for your family? Though the enemy of purity, and virtue, and holiness, is scattering poison throughout the land, the God of truth has provided an antidote, and he will not hold that parent guiltless who refuses or neglects to employ it.