The Youth’s Temperance Lecturer didn’t last long, but it made an impression on editors of other periodicals, who reprinted various pieces. “Shaking the Table Cloth” is one of several pieces reprinted by Youth’s Companion. The story focuses on the theme of temperance—but here “temperance” means being frugal and not wasting what you have.
“Shaking the Table Cloth” (reprinted from Youth’s Temperance Lecturer; from Youth’s Companion, July 3, 1833; p. 2)

“Mercy on us! Mary! where did all these pieces of bread and cheese come from?”

Mary looked out at the window. It was her father who called her. He had stepped out into the back yard, early in the morning, to wash himself, and was surprised to find the pavement strewed with little bits of bread, cheese, and smoked beef, almost enough to make a dinner for a temperate man

“Mary! what does all this mean?” said her father, pointing to the ground.

“Oh! it is where I shook out the table cloth,” said Mary.

Mary’s mother had usually “shook out the table cloth” herself, for she was a very careful woman. But she had been sick, a day or two, and the work had been done by Mary.

“But did’nt [sic] you know better, my daughter, than to shake out the table cloth, before you had taken off all the victuals?”

Mary was silent, for she knew she had done wrong, and had no one word to say, in excuse.

“Come, my daughter, pick them up,” said her father, “and I will try to turn the affair to good account, by giving you some instruction that will do you good, as long as you live.

“When our Saviour fed thousands of people, with a few barley loaves and fishes, he took care to tell his disciples to ‘gather up the fragments that nothing be lost.’ Though he made the food by a miracle, and could make enough more, whenever he wanted it, yet he would not allow a single crumb of it to be wasted! Ho does this example of Christ reprove those who get their food by hard labor and with much difficulty, and sometimes complain of poverty, have little or nothing to give to the poor, or to do good with, and yet waste the fragments that Christ directed his disciples to save!

[“]Some people seem to think, that when they see others very careful and saving, that it is certainly because they are very mean and selfish, and they often think and say that such people cannot be Christians! But I have always wondered how wasteful people could think themselves good Christians, when they throw away the means of doing good which God has put into their hands. I know that some people are very saving, and careful, only because they love to hoard money and get rich. This is avarice. It is ‘covetousness, which is idolatry.’ But every body ought [to] be as careful as they are: not to get rich, but to do good. So, then a very careful, saving person may be either a good Christian, or a covetous person, according to the use he intends to make of his savings. But I do not see how a wasteful person can do the things that are required of a Christian.

“Now, Mary, my child, remember, and if you wish to have any thing to give the poor beggars, when they come along, mind how you shake your table cloth!

“If you wish to see your little brothers and sisters comfortably fed and clothes, remember that your father works hard to get the money to buy them bread and clothes, and be careful how you shake your table cloth!

“If you wish to have your mother comfortable while she is sick, and your father and mother provided for, when they are old, and cannot work, be careful how you shake your table cloth!

“If you want a few spare shillings to buy good books to read, mind how you shake your table cloth!

“If you wish to put money in the contribution box, at the monthly concert, to help send the gospel to the heathen, or to buy Bibles for those who have none, be careful how you shake your table cloth!

“The world might all have been civilized and filled with Bibles long ago, if Christians had only known how to shake their table cloths!

“Mary! my child, should you ever get married, your husband will probably either be thrifty or poor, respected or degraded, industrious or discouraged, sober or intemperate, very much according to the manner in which you shake your table cloth. That is—if you are saving, all will go well; if not, every thing will go to ruin.

“Many a woman has a drunken husband, only because she was never learned how to shake the table cloth.

“Families are broken up, neighborhoods are made mean and wretched, states are impoverished, and nations decline and fall, only because they do not know how to shake their table cloths!

“Great and learned men write great and learned books, about political economy, which is the art of making the nations rich and happy. Statesmen meet in Congress, and dispute about it.—They had better go at work, and learn all the little girls in the nation, like you, Mary, how to shake their table cloths! It would do more good than all the books and laws they have made, for an hundred years past.

“Now, Mary! my daughter! remember as long as you live, the lecture of the table cloth.”

Copyright 1999-2020, Pat Pflieger
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