Quotable

One of Isabella’s great talents (out of many!) was her ability to state Christian truths simply and meaningfully. You can find examples of this in all her writings, from stories and Sunday school lessons, to daily Bible studies.

This “quotable” comes from her Daily Thoughts for June, a monthly column she wrote for The Pansy magazine:

Image of a bouquet of pansies with the words "Christ is the great Peace-maker, and all God's children should have the family likeness. - Isabella Alden"

You can follow these links to read all of Isabella’s Daily Thoughts columns: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December.

You can find more of Isabella’s words of wisdom like the one above, which you can print and share. Just enter “quotables” in the search box on the right to see more.

Advice to Readers on Bashfulness

For many years Isabella served as an editor and contributor to a Christian magazine in which she had a very popular advice column. She used the column to answer readers’ concerns—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of topics.

This letter came from a teen in Kansas:

I want to ask if there is any way to overcome being painfully bashful. I am really a sufferer with this disease. I get good marks in school when the work is largely in writing, but as sure as I am called upon to talk, I am scared out of my wits.

In Voice Culture class it is the same. I am said to have a fine voice and my teachers say my “scares” are all that keep me back. I am always swallowing at the wrong place. I have been so humiliated by this drawback that there are times when I think I would like to run away where no one who knows me would ever see me again.

My dear mother is planning to have me go to college, and I know I shall fail on account of timidity; that is the only drawback, for I like to study.

Kansas.

Here is Isabella’s Reply:

Yours is by no means an uncommon affliction, dear friend. Indeed, it sometimes seems as though the world of young people was made up of two classes: those who have no timidity about anything and rush in where thoughtful persons hesitate, and those who, as the letters quoted from express it, are “painfully bashful.”

Before the remedy can be applied with any degree of success, the cause of the disease must be determined; and at the risk of having some of the afflicted start back in protesting dismay, I am going to diagnose it as pride, overweening self-esteem, egotism, any of the words by which we define undue self-consciousness.

Illustration of an 1888 classroom of young girls. One girl stands; she is holding a book, her head is bent and she holds up her arm to cover her face. The other students are seated; one tries to comfort the embarrassed student. Two others whisper and smile together; while two more are reading a book in the back. A teacher stands near the window of the room.

I know that to some it will sound like a contradiction to say that a timid person has too much self-esteem, yet I believe that in nine cases of “bashfulness” out of ten, this will be found to be the case. The remedy, therefore, suggests itself. Anything that will help us to forget ourselves entirely will go far toward removing the trouble: and there is really nothing else that is likely to do much good.

Photo dated about 1905 of a classroom of female students in their teens. One female students stands beside a large document hung on the wall and uses a pointer to indicate one section of the document. All other students are seeated at desks and are looking in her direction..
A student recites in history class. (Credit: Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California at Riverside.

In a school recitation, if we have made such close and careful preparation that the subject has got hold of us and we are filled with admiration (or indignation, or curiosity) over the thoughts expressed by the author we study, it will be those thoughts and not ourselves that we will think about when we recite.

Photo dated about 1910. A teacher stands at the classroom blackboard where words and shapes are drawn, and points to one section of the blackboard. One little girl stands facing the teacher (her back to the camera) to answer the teacher's question. All other students sit at desks with their backs to the camera. Some students have their hands raised to answer the question.

In Voice Culture this is harder, because the inane syllables on which the pupil is compelled to practice afford no chance for thought; but as soon as one is allowed to sing words—if they are worth singing—the performer can train himself to be absorbed in the thought they express, and in the wonder that the human voice has power to render varying feeling and emotion; and in curiosity to see what range of expression he has himself, until he forgets entirely to wonder, or to fear, what other people think of his performance, and becomes an artist, lost in his art. Such a singer will not be troubled with timidity. Ordinary singers can train toward this height, and overcome self by degrees.

Illustration of a group of young people in a drawing-room about 1875. Some are seated, some are standing. One man sits at a piano and looks at a young  woman who stands beside the piano, singing and holding sheet music.

In social life the ideal way to overcome the form of self-consciousness that expresses itself in timidity, is to fix one’s attention on some other person, a stranger perhaps, or one not accustomed to society, who, for these or other reasons, is not having a good time; and resolve that he or she shall have a pleasant evening. The reflex result will astonish those who try it for the first time.

I knew a timid, shrinking girl, given to fancying herself awkward or stupid or conspicuous in some unpleasant way, who was one evening roused to sympathy for a young woman not so well dressed as the others, and evidently painfully aware of it. In struggling to make that one forget her too short dress and gloveless hands and other defects of costume and have a good time in spite of them, she forgot all about herself.

Illustration of two young women in old period dress, standing close together with a small branch of a pink flowering bush.

Here is what she told her mother on reaching home.

“We had a lovely time, mamma; and Miss Haven says I sang better than she ever heard me; that my voice didn’t tremble a bit. And don’t you believe I forgot all about being scared! I asked that Bennett girl to take the alto, and I was so interested in having her do well that I never once thought of how I was singing!”

A young woman stands holding sheet music and singing. Beside her another young woman is seated, playing a piano.

All of which goes to prove that the old, old rule which, being freely translated is: ”Think always of others and never mind about yourself.” It’s a good one to apply to the great, and the trivial acts of our lives. Once, a girl told me that she thought it would be irreverent to try to imagine what the Lord Jesus Christ thought of her when she stood up in class, or whether he was pleased with her work.

Do you know, I want no such Savior as that girl must have thought she had? I want one who knows our infirmities, “was tempted in all points” as we are, who is interested in the very hairs of our heads, and in the minutest trivialities of our daily lives. Suppose we thought much more about what he is thinking of us than we do? Would it help?

Pansy.

What do you think of Isabella’s advice to the teen in Kansas?

Advice to Readers about Boys and Books

For many years Isabella served as an editor and contributor to a Christian magazine in which she had a very popular advice column. She used the column to answer readers’ concerns—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of topics.

This letter came from a teen named Betsy:

Do you think there is any harm in girls of, say, fifteen to seventeen or eighteen, giving parties and inviting their boy friends? Some people seem to think so; what do you think?

I wish you would name a list of books for girl to read. Father doesn’t like me to read “Little Women” and such stories, and I’m sure I don’t know what is good if they are not.

Betsy.

Here is Isabella’s reply:

About the parties, Betsy, they belong to the class that the logicians call an “open question.” There are parties, and “parties.” A girl of fifteen, or sixteen, or seventeen, whose mother heartily approves the plan and joins with her daughter in making ready and in preparing the list of invitations—giving careful consideration to the names of the boys— and whose father and mother are to act as host and hostess, may safely give a party such as all her friends will approve and enjoy. In short, a party thoroughly mothered and fathered is, as a rule, a safe and pleasant place for young people to gather occasionally.

Note the use of that word “occasionally.” Even under the most favorable circumstances, with fathers and mothers as wise as serpents, parties are like rich cake; as an occasional luxury it is delicious and comparatively harmless; but used as a steady diet, interfering with substantial food, the normal appetite soon turns from it with dislike; and for the abnormal one, it works mischief.

Do you know, Betsy, I don’t more than half believe in the party that your question is planning. I more than half believe that either mother or father, or both, have been trying to convince you that you have not time, or, perhaps, strength, for such functions; perhaps, that there have already been too many parties in your circle this season; perhaps, that they cannot afford to indulge you in this matter; perhaps, that some of the boys, and even, possibly, certain of the girls, whom you wish to invite, are not such as they like to welcome as your friends; and you have not been convinced by them; hence your question.

If I am wrong in reading between the lines of your letter, forgive me; I may be wrongly judging you by others. I know such girls; indeed, I am answering their letters at this moment. through yours. I want to say to them that nothing is safer in this world than for girls of sixteen or seventeen, or any age that marks them as girls, to be guided by the judgment, by the fears, by the notions, even, of good mothers and fathers; and that just as surely as they break away from such advice and guidance, whether in the matter of parties or anything else, just as surely the day is coming when they will regret it. I am an old woman, and I am saying what I know is true. I have seen it bitterly regretted when it was too late.

About books. Lists, when they come from strangers, are doubtful helps. Personal tastes and acquirements, as well as the environment of the readers, must be taken into consideration to make them helpful.

I do not know your father’s reason for objecting to Little Women, but my personal objection to that and other volumes by the same gifted author is that, while charmingly written, they present views of life that are fascinating and false. Many of the characters described live beautifully, unselfishly, sacrificially, not for the sake of love, but for the sake of duty; and they do it steadily, climbing to the heights of self-abnegation, growing day by day in all the graces of the Christian religion, but they do it without a Savior. Jesus Christ is to them a friend, a guide, a beautiful pattern, but never a Redeemer. Such living is impossible. For this reason I deplore the charms of that class of books.

Betsy, dear, why not get that good father of yours to make a list of books that he would like you to read? I’m nearly certain that he would do it if you asked him, and equally certain that he would be gratified at the request.

When you get your list, let me beg you to begin at the beginning and read the books through carefully, conscientiously; not skimming a page, not skipping a line; even though they be as dry as chips baked in a summer’s sun and you fall asleep over them a dozen times. If he is the father that I think he is, I can predict the result with the certainty of a prophet.

I can even imagine a typical scene; a day when you will stand with one of the time-worn volumes in your hand, a dreamy look on your face, a tenderness in your voice, and an undertone of pathos, as you say:

I can never be grateful enough to my dear father for persuading me when I was a girl of sixteen to read this old book, and the others that were on the list he gave me. Some of them have had an abiding influence over my life. I truly believe that my taste for real literature of the best kind began to be formed while I was struggling through this first volume, for father’s sake. Dear father! He did a great deal more for me than he knew.

Believe me, Betsy, now is the time to plant seeds that may bloom, some day, over father’s grave. It will be blessed for you if you do such gardening now that if, in the faraway future, you stand one day beside the resting places of father and mother, there will be flowers of memory in your heart, instead of that thorny plant: “Oh, I wish I hadn’t!”

What do you think of Isabella’s advice to Betsy?

What To Do with Christmas Cards?

In a February 1883 issue of The Pansy magazine, Isabella turned an average question—What shall we do with Christmas cards we receive?—into a lesson for children in being thoughtful of others.

What Shall We Do with Our Christmas Cards?

All those bright pretty affairs that came flying in from the postman’s fingers at Christmas time to make us so happy—why can’t we make them give happiness to someone else the whole year? Someone sick and suffering, with little to brighten and amuse? Why, they would be very messengers of sweet charity to such.

Here is work for you, dear little Pansies who belong to the “P. S. Society.” Make a scrap book of all those cards which you think it right to give away, saying your whisper motto, For Jesus’ Sake, as you tuck in the dainty bit of color, and the pretty verses, then send it all on loving wing to the Children’s Ward of the hospital of your city.

Think of the eyes that will rest on it when the pain makes the tears come; think of the little ones who must lie on their beds, weary day after weary day, when you are running, and skating, and sleigh-riding!

And best of all, think how the children will love the book, just because some other child made it for them.

How many members of the “P. S.” will do this? Who will be first, I wonder?

If you want to make a very pretty book, cut leaves of white, and pink, and light blue cambric or sateen; tie them together at back with ribbon or braid, putting strings of same on front.

An 1869 home-made cloth scrapbook (from Worthpoint.com).

Paste all dark pictures on the white cloth; all delicately tinted ones on the colored cloth. The effect will be very lovely—I know the “Children’s Ward” will think so.

A cloth scrapbook from the 1860s (from RubyLane.com).

You can learn more about the “P.S. Society” and the “whisper motto, “For Jesus’ Sake” by clicking here.

Do you send and receive Christmas cards each year?

What creative things have you done with them once the holiday is over?

Advice to Readers about Forgiveness

In the early 1900s Isabella wrote a regular column for a Christian magazine in which she answered reader letters and offered advice—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of subjects.

The letter below came from a teen in California:

I am in sore need of help. I find that I cannot use the whole of the Lord’s Prayer. Our pastor talked last Sunday about the Lord’s Prayer being a “model,” but I cannot model my praying after it. The words that trouble me are, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

Now, there is one person whom I cannot forgive. She has purposely come between me and my best friends. She has said untrue things about me—dozens of them—and she loses no opportunity to be hateful to me.

How can I pretend to forgive such a creature? The last thing she wants is my forgiveness—why, she says that she despises me, and wouldn’t speak to me, nor stay in the same room with me for the world!

I cannot understand why I should be expected to forgive her. Even God doesn’t forgive people unless they ask him to, does he? And yet, the prayer says, “Forgive us our debts AS we forgive.” Doesn’t that mean that if I pray that prayer I am actually asking God to forgive me in the same way that I am forgiving her? That seems to me an awful prayer!

I want God to forgive me: and I want to serve him, yet it seems as though that said I mustn’t ask him, because I cannot forgive her! I don’t understand it, and I don’t know what to do. And there is that verse about “loving your enemies”—that is simply impossible! And yet I do truly love Jesus and want to follow him. What shall I do?

Here’s how Isabella responded to her letter:

Undoubtedly your pastor is right, and the Lord Jesus gave us a “model prayer.” Yet the phrase you quoted has not the exact meaning you give to it. It is not a challenge to God to treat us, in the matter of forgiveness, just as we are treating somebody else; it is rather our acknowledgment to God that we have obeyed his directions.

Do you remember that in the chapter preceding the one with the Lord’s Prayer, the words of Jesus are plainer and stronger than those in the prayer? When you go to pray and remember that your brother has something against you, go first and be reconciled to him, then come and offer your gift of prayer.

The duty of forgiveness is so plainly and repeatedly taught in the Bible that there is no way of escaping it. Nor are we by any means to wait to be asked. Note the language of that direction in Mat. 5:23:

“And there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee.”

Not even necessarily you against him but he against you.

You speak of God having to be asked before he forgives, but you forget what is involved. When God forgives, he absolves from sin, and presents eternal life; and the plan of salvation is, there is no compulsion, the sinner is free, he may accept or refuse, but forgiveness, remember, is offered, and God waits for its acceptance.

If I understand your letter (or, rather, your letters, for the quotation is gathered from several who, with varying surroundings, have much the same problem), your main trouble is, I think, that you do not take in the real meaning of that word “forgiveness,” or that word “love,” as applied to your enemies. It is not that you are directed to have pleasure in the society of the one who has injured you, or to feel the same toward her that you do toward a friend.

It is not that you should trust her, so long as she continues to prove herself unworthy of trust, nor that you should love her in the way that you love those who please you. None of these things would you be able to do. But there is higher ground than this, and the Christian, because of God in his life, can reach it.

You can refrain from talking about this one who has injured you, and making the wounds deeper by spreading them open.

You can be kept from brooding in private over what has been done.

You can be helped to genuinely want good and not evil to come to that one.

You can learn to pray daily for her highest good.

You can grow into an earnest desire to be helpful to her in any way that may open.

All this is possible and reasonable, and his been done by God’s children again and again. It may look impossible to you but it is not, because the impossible is God’s part.

Yield yourself to him, and what he sees that you honestly want he will grant. This is loving our enemies and forgiving them their debts. It is not a love of enjoyment in their society necessarily, until there is a radical change in them—but it is higher than that, because it is divine. It is thinking God’s thoughts after him.

Don’t imagine for a moment that you can run away from the obligation that is upon you to forgive, by skipping the Lord’s Prayer. Remember that its spirit must pervade all real prayer.

What do you think of Isabella’s advice?

Do you think she gave the right counsel to the teen from California?

You can read Isabella’s Advice to Readers about Ornaments by clicking here. 

Daily Thoughts for December

This post contains the final installment of Isabella’s monthly Bible devotional series titled “Daily Thoughts,” which she wrote for The Pansy magazine in 1885.

Isabella’s “Daily Thoughts” for the month of December focus on Chapters 139 and 46 of the Book of Psalms.

Please Note: You will see that the PDF version of the original 1885 “Daily Thoughts” for December contains two errors:

  1. There is no verse for December 31 (unfortunately for us!).
  2. The verses for December 25 through 30 are incorrectly attributed to Chapter xli (Chapter 41) of the Book of Psalms. This was probably just a printing error in the original issue of The Pansy magazine. The correct chapter is Psalms xlvi (Chapter 46).

Click here to open a PDF version of Isabella’s “Daily Thoughts” for November, which you can read, print, save, and share with others.

Or, click here to download a simplified Word version.

If you missed Isabella’s “Daily Thoughts” for previous months, you can find them here: January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October November

Advice to Readers about Ornaments

In the early 1900s Isabella wrote a regular column for a Christian magazine in which she answered reader letters and offered advice—from a Christian perspective—on a variety of subjects.

The column gives us a wonderful insight into Isabella’s personality and her plain, straightforward manner of communicating.

In one of her 1911 columns, Isabella shared this letter from a reader named Nannie:

I want to have a little talk with you about what will seem to you, I suppose, a small matter, but it is giving me a good deal of trouble.

Do you think it is wrong to wear any kind of jewelry? I have a very dear friend who has given me a gold ring with a pearl in it, and I want to wear it; chiefly for the friend’s sake, although I do think it looks pretty on my hand. But my aunt, with whom I live, is a very religious woman, and she thinks it is wrong for me to wear rings; she says it is going contrary to plain Bible commands, and she quotes that verse about braiding the hair and wearing jewels of gold. Now, is she right? Is it wicked to curl my hair, for instance, when it is less work to curl it than to keep it smooth? And to wear my dear ring that I have promised to keep forever?

I want to be good, but— Can God care about such trifles? My aunt says that my dear dead mother thought just as she does about these things, and that I am showing disrespect to her memory. But my mother did not seem like that to me; she used to trim my little dresses, and she curled my hair around her finger. She died, though, when I was eight, and now I am eighteen. Will you tell me if you think I am wicked?

Nannie.

Here’s how Isabella responded to Nannie’s letter:

My Dear Nannie:
What a deal of trouble! Five questions, are there not? But they all hover about one central thought. Let us look at them separately.

“Do I think it wrong to wear jewelry?” No; if I did, I would not wear it. I have worn my wedding ring for more than forty years, and it is dearer to me, I dare to think, than even your pearl one, so, you see, I can understand your feeling. I pin my collar with a gold pin as naturally as I comb my hair, and find it vastly more convenient than a common pin would be. I wear my watch whenever I think a watch will be a convenience; and there are sundry other trifles that would come under the general head of jewelry which I call into service from time to time. All this is an easy way of stating my position. Quiet, unostentatious pieces of jewelry, keepsakes, or conveniences, or those articles that custom has made symbolic, like engagement and marriage rings, are, in my judgment, entirely appropriate for Christians to wear.

It is an altogether mistaken idea that to be religious one must cease to love the beautiful. Do you remember the lines in Mary Howitt’s verses on beauty?

God might have made the earth bring forth
Enough for great and small,
The oak tree and the cedar tree.
Without a flower at all.

The Bible verse to which you refer has caused trouble for a few conscientious people because they do not understand its environment. Study the times in which Peter wrote those words, and the fashions that were then in vogue if you want to get the spirit of his advice. Take note that it is advice, and not command. Peter is really making a comparison between two classes of ornaments—the outward and inward—and urging upon Christian women to give their attention to the latter. By way of illustration he mentions the plaiting of hair which was at that time carried to such wild excess.

Notice, too, Peter’s next phrase after mentioning the wearing of gold, “or of putting on of apparel.” Our literal friends who frown upon even the plain gold ring would surely not have us go a step farther in literal interpretation and refuse to wear clothing! I speak of this only to show you how easy it is to become absurd, even in our interpretation of Bible words.

“Is it wicked to curl your hair?” Why, child, according to your own statement the Lord has done this for you. My own opinion about it is, that so far as you and God are concerned you have a perfect right to arrange your hair in the way that you consider most becoming to you, provided it does not require an unreasonable expenditure of time or means to do so. Other things being equal, this would be a fair rule to go by.

“Can God care about such trifles?” My dear, you are speaking of the One who said: “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” There are no “trifles” in his sight. Yet I am glad to believe that he does care in the way you are thinking of it, and that he does care in a very real and helpful sense, even for rings and curls.

Now, having made all these admissions and proved myself to be clearly on your side, suppose we go back and consider the entire question from another standpoint.

Did you take notice, back there, of that somewhat obscure phrase “other things being equal,” and wonder what in the world I meant? Let me see if I can explain. A word about that dear aunt who does not think as you do. Of course, she is much older than you. As I understand it she is trying to fill the place of mother to you; you live with her; that is, she has made a home for you. Then what do you owe her in return? You want to “be good”; this is no trifle. To be good is almost the greatest thing in the world, and to want to be is one step toward it; be sure God cares for this. What has God said about those who stand as parents? “Honor” is a great word, comprehensive and far reaching; also, it is practical.

“Here, for illustration, is a ring, a lovely ring with a pearl in it. The ring is mine and I want to wear it. And here is God, interested in me, and in my ring. Does he think it wrong for me to wear it? Other things being equal, no. But here is my aunt, she thinks it wrong; she thinks that God thinks so; to have me wear it would hurt her. Would it hurt me not to wear it? That is, do I believe I would be doing wrong?”

“N-o, but—”

“Yes, I understand, but we are talking about honor now; and we have found that ‘things’ are not equal. Could I possibly, for the sake of my aunt’s feelings—for the sake of my aunt’s conscience, pack away my ring in pink cotton in its white velvet box until such time as—? Ought I to do that?”

Ah, now you have reached a question that you, that the individual conscience, must answer for itself. The illustration is only to clear the way for thought: all these questions, whether rings, or curls, or what not, swing on the same hinges.

“All things are lawful for me,” said one, “but all things are not expedient.”

“Ye have been called unto liberty.” said one, “only, use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.”

Suppose the Bible read in this way: “But curls commend us not to God, for neither if we wear them are we the better, neither if we wear them not are we the worse; but take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak.” Would it make the argument plainer?

What do you think of Isabella’s “advice column?”

Do you think she gave the right advice to Nannie?

Daily Thoughts for November

In 1895 Isabella published a monthly Bible devotional series titled “Daily Thoughts,” which appeared the first day of each month in The Pansy magazine; and we’re reprinting them in 2020!

Isabella’s “Daily Thoughts” for the month of November are from Chapter 40 of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.

Click here to open a full-size PDF version of Isabella’s “Daily Thoughts” for November, which you can read, print, save, and share with others.

Or, click here to download a simplified Word version.

If you missed “Daily Thoughts” for previous months, you can find them here: January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October

Daily Thoughts for October

In 1895 Isabella published a monthly Bible devotional series titled “Daily Thoughts,” which appeared the first day of each month in The Pansy magazine; and we’re reprinting it in 2020!

Isabella’s “Daily Thoughts” for the month of October are from Chapter 6 of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, and Chapter 2 of the book of Revelation.

Click here to open a full-size PDF version of Isabella’s “Daily Thoughts” for October, which you can read, print, save, and share with others.

Or, click here to download a simplified Word version.

If you missed “Daily Thoughts” for prior months, you can find them here: January February March April May  June July August September

Daily Thoughts for September

In 1895 Isabella published a monthly Bible devotional series titled “Daily Thoughts,” which appeared the first day of each month in The Pansy magazine; and we’re reprinting it in 2020!

Isabella’s “Daily Thoughts” for the month of September are from Chapter 8 of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.

Click here to open a full-size PDF version of Isabella’s “Daily Thoughts” for September, which you can read, print, save, and share with others.

Or, click here to download a simplified Word version.

If you missed “Daily Thoughts” for prior months, you can find them here: January February March April May  June July August