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A Hard Text about Swearing

Isabella’s brother-in-law Reverend Charles M. Livingston wrote several articles for The Pansy magazine in which he explained Bible verses that might seem confusing at first. Here’s one he wrote in 1889:


Matthew 5: 33-37:

33. Again, ye have heard that it hath been said of them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:

34. But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne:

35. Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.

36. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.

37. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

Image of open Bible

With these words in mind, how, then, do good men swear on the witness stand in the court-room?

That is intended to be a solemn, religious thing, for the sake of truth and law and justice. It sets the fear of God before the witness to deter him from falsehood, and the love of God to lead him to tell the truth.

The spirit of prayer is in it.

Our Hard Text refers to profane, wicked, idle swearing. It is taking the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain. It is very common in ordinary conversation among many people. They curse and swear “by” this and “by” that, just for fun, or to make folks believe them, usually when they are telling a lie. At last it becomes a vile, dreadful habit, and in almost every sentence they swear. Many little children do this. It is an awful sin. It leads to destruction.

Shun the first step in that direction. Have a character for truth. Consecrate your tongue to Christ as He died on the cross to redeem your entire body and soul from all sin.

Have you ever wondered if swearing a solemn oath was the same as swearing in ordinary conversation?

What do you think of Rev. Livingston’s explanation?


Click on the links below to read more of Reverend Livingston’s “Hard Text” articles:

A Hard Text

A Hard Text in Matthew

A Hard Text: Matthew, Mark and Luke

Advice to Readers about Marriage Proposals

For many years Isabella edited a Christian magazine for which she wrote a very popular advice column. In 1896 she responded to a letter from an unmarried woman who had just received a proposal of marriage.

Despite his profession of love to her, the woman confessed she did not feel the same way about him. Yet she was tempted to accept his offer because she thought he’d make a fine husband; but her biggest concern was that because she was getting older, she was afraid his proposal may be her last chance for marriage.  

In closing, she asked Isabella: How could she tell if the Lord meant for her to marry such a man?

Image of man and woman about 1910 in an embrace, holding hands.

Here is Isabella’s advice:

My Dear Friend, I can understand the state of bewilderment into which you are thrown, but at my age the light is plainer. As I read your letter, I find myself wishing that all questions were as easily answered as yours.

In the first place, let me beg you never to allow any chain of circumstances or specious reasoning to persuade you that it is right to marry one that you are not sure beyond the shadow of a doubt is the man above all others that you believe your heart would have chosen under any conceivable circumstances. Any other marriage than this I believe to be a mockery in the sight of God. I can conceive of one loving another in this way, and yet not marrying from motives of duty; but I cannot conceive of any duty that would make it right for one not so loving to marry. Do you not see how simple a matter such conviction of right and wrong as this makes your query?

Image of bride and groom holding hands as they kneel in church about 1905. Behind them are three bridesmaids dressed in pink gowns and holding bouquets of pink flowers.

Be sure, dear friend, that what “the Lord means” for you is that you should do right, even if in doing so you are compelled to grieve someone that has given you the best his heart has to offer. It would be but a sorry return to give back to such a man mere dregs of feeling.  

I know it is the fashion in certain circles to talk a great deal about “Platonic affection.” I have often been tempted to think that many people use the term without having a clear idea of what it means; but the fact remains that with honest, earnest, well-trained young men and women exclusive and long-continued companionship means, other things being equal, companionship for life; and when two persons arrange to set aside this rule of nature, it generally means sorrow for one of them.

Image of bride and groom about 1910 in tender embrace.

Let me still further say that it seems to me you are perhaps making the very common mistake of thinking of marriage almost as a necessity to a woman’s life. Does it not occur to you that possibly God may not mean you to marry at all?

In saying this I do not want to be understood to speak lightly of marriage; on the contrary, I believe a true marriage to be the crown of a woman’s life. But there are many honorable exceptions; there is blessed work in the world being done by women with warm affections and motherly hearts, who have no home ties, and so are able to do that which—but for them—would be left undone. Who can estimate how many homeless and motherless ones rise up to call such women blessed? Possibly your work lies in this direction. Whether it does or not, let me repeat the admonition with which I began:

Never mistake friendship for love; never stand before the marriage altar with one of whom you could not say, “My heart chose him alone from all the world.”

Image of a bride and groom outside a church about 1918. Bride is dressed in white gown and veil and carrying a bouquet of white flowers. Groom is dressed in formal black tux with white shirt, tie and waistcoat.

My dear girl, I want to emphasize this as much as possible because I believe in it so thoroughly. The world is full of wrecked homes and ruined hearts that need not have been so if friendship had not been so often mistaken for love, and marriage relations entered into so carelessly.

I wonder whether I have fully answered your thought. I have no doubt that you consider your circumstances peculiar—we all do—but the letters that I have received lead me to believe that a large number of your sisters are thinking along much the same lines.

What do you think of Isabella’s advice?

Do you agree with her that marriage is not always “a necessity to a woman’s life”?

You can read more of Isabella’s advice columns by clicking on the links below:

Advice to Anxious Mothers of Daughters

Advice to Readers on Learning to Cook

Advice to Readers about Keeping Confidences

Isabella’s Advice about Christmas Possibilities

Advice about Righting the Wrong Marriage Proposal

Advice to Readers about Shortcomings

Advice to Readers on Managing the World

Advice to Readers on Memorizing Bible Verses

Advice to Readers on Praying Aloud in Public

Advice to Readers Living Humdrum Lives

Advice to Readers on Bashfulness

Advice to Readers about Boys and Books

Advice to Readers about Forgiveness

Advice to Readers about Ornaments

Free Read: Philip Kendall’s Fire

This month’s free read is a short story Isabella wrote in 1916 about the power of faith.

Philip Kendall dreams of going to college, but he has no way to pay for it. His only hope is to convince his long-estranged—and extremely parsimonious—aunt and uncle to lend him the money.

You can read “Philip Kendall’s Fire” for free!

Choose the reading option you like best:

You can read the story on your computer, phone, tablet, Kindle, or other electronic device. Just click here to download your preferred format from BookFunnel.com.

Or you can select BookFunnel’s “My Computer” option to receive an email with a version you can rad, print, and share with friends.

Love’s Garden

Isabella was an avid reader, and often read aloud to her family. She enjoyed biographies, histories, and fiction; but she particularly enjoyed reading poetry. In fact, her husband Ross and her son Raymond were both published poets.

Isabella often shared poems she enjoyed with readers of The Pansy magazine. In an 1893 issue she printed this lovely poem:

Love’s Garden

There is a quiet garden
From the rude world set apart,
Where seeds for Christ are growing;
This is the loving heart.
The tiny roots are loving thoughts,
Sweet words, the fragrant flowers
Which blossom into loving deeds—
Ripe fruit for harvest hours.
Thus in our hearts the seeds of love
Are growing, year by year;
And we show our love for the Saviour,
By loving his children here.

Author Unknown

The Many Names of Jesus

Isabella had a wonderful way of using her own personal experiences to show people how relevant the Bible could be in their everyday lives. In 1895 she wrote this uplifting piece for a Christian magazine:


Have you ever noticed how many beautiful names Jesus has?

One of the pleasantest Sunday afternoons I remember was spent with my dear father, looking up some of them, and trying to find what they meant.

We began with that one in Zechariah 3:8, where it says:

“Behold, I will bring forth my servant the Branch.”

Graphic with Bible verse: I will bring forth my servant the BRANCH. Zechariah 3:8

I suppose I was not old enough at the time to understand much of its meaning, but I liked the sound of the verse; and I like now to think of Jesus as a part of God, a branch from the divine one, broken off from the great tree and sent to earth for us.

Then we looked at Isaiah 9:6, and found that he was not only a branch from God, but that one of his names was “Everlasting Father.”

And Isaiah 7:14 called him “Emmanuel,” which means, God with us.

And Paul, in Romans 11:26 called him the Deliverer; and Peter called him the Corner-Stone, and John, the Good Shepherd, and the Lamb of God, and the Light, and the King, and the Word, and the Why. John has so many names for him!

Graphic with Bible verse: There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer. Romans 11:26

Take your Bible some day, and try and find out all the names of Jesus; if you have not thought about it before, you will be astonished at the number of them. I do not think you can imagine a great or helpful name which has not been given to him.

So many times he is called the Savior! Then he is the Mighty One, the Maker of all things; the Prince of Life, the Prince of Peace, the Morning Star, the Redeemer, the King of Kings.

I wonder if you will have a preference among these names? If some of them will seem to make him come nearer to you than others?

One day I was very much afraid of something which I feared was coming to me; I did not see how I could escape it, and I was glad to remember that Jesus was the Deliverer.

Graphic with Bible verse: The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer. II Samuel 22:2

Then, when my father died, and my heart felt as heavy as lead, and it seemed to me as though I could never be happy again, I found this name for Jesus in Revelation 1:5:

“The first-begotten of the dead.”

Graphic with Bible verse: Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead. Revelation 1:5

Then  I remembered that Jesus died, and was the first one to rise from the dead by his own power, and had promised to raise all others, and that my father would surely live again.

Oh, this is a beautiful thing to study about! Who will try it? See how many names you can find.

What do you think of Isabella’s idea for Bible study?

Do you have a favorite among the different names for Jesus? one that—as Isabella said—makes him feel nearer to you than others?

Summer at Monteagle

Now that summer is here and the temperatures are climbing, do you ever find yourself wondering what people did before air conditioning? Isabella hints at the answer in some of her stories, when a few of her lucky fictional characters got to leave their hot, humid city homes for cooler locations, such as beaches or mountains.

Isabella knew of which she wrote. She frequently spent her summers at Chautauqua Institution in New York, where she could enjoy the lake and cool breezes; and in Florida, where she had a large family home in Winter Park, and a smaller cottage in Defuniak Springs.

Then, in the summer of 1883 Isabella traveled to Tennessee, where she was one of the first visitors to the newly-opened Monteagle Sunday-school Assembly.

The cover of an 1893 pamphlet about Monteagle. Click on the image to see the entire pamphlet.

Monteagle was situated on 100 acres of land atop a mountain in Tennessee’s Cumberland range. Its location quickly made it a favorite resort for people from all over the American south.

Antique postcard showing the view looking west from atop the Cumberland Mountains

Bishop John Heyl Vincent, one of the co-founders of the original Chautauqua Institution of New York, visited Monteagle, too. He hailed it for supplying “recreation for tired men, women and children by gathering them on the mountain top where pure air and good music and earnest lectures would rest and entertain them.”

A portion from Bishop Vincent’s interview with The Tennessean about Monteagle, published May 10, 1883.

In many ways Monteagle Assembly was very similar to its northern cousin. Like Chautauqua it initially began as a training convention for Sunday-school teachers. In its early days Monteagle was just as rustic as Isabella described the early days of the New York assembly in Four Girls at Chautauqua. Tents provided the only sleeping accommodations, the dining hall had few dishes and cutlery, and lectures and sermons were held out of doors at the whim of Mother Nature.

Even the offices of the Monteagle Chautuaqua Literary and Scientific Circle were first housed in a modest tent until a permanent building for the C.L.S.C. could be erected.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed C.L.S.C. office building at Monteagle Assembly.

But Monteagle did not stay rustic for long. The assembly planned to erect an amphitheatre, a hotel, a dining hall, a library, meeting halls and classrooms.

In 1883 the organizers published their ambitious plan for the property in the local newspaper. (You can click on the map to see a larger version.)

An 1883 drawing of the proposed layout for the Monteagle Sunday-School Assembly Grounds, published in The Tenneseean on May 10, 1883.

..

The amphitheatre that was ultimately built was modeled after the Grand Opera House of Paris and could hold 2,000 people.

Early photograph of the Monteagle Assembly amphitheatre.

The designers also included plenty of room for charming cottages, colorful gardens, and rambling walking paths.

Photo of a gazebo set under the trees near a walking path.
A pretty gazebo at Monteagle

There’s no record to tell us how many times Isabella visited Monteagle; but we do know she enjoyed the place so much, she published a novel about it in 1886, titled simply, Monteagle.

Image of the cover of Monteagle by Isabella Alden

In her story, city girl Dilly West—whose health suffered terribly because of hot summer tenement living conditions in the city—blossomed when she had the chance to go to Monteagle.

When asked what she liked most about Monteagle Assembly, Dilly immediately credited the fresh mountain air:

“Why, I fancy everything; the trees, and the flowers, and the birds, and the lovely breeze. There wasn’t ever any breeze in the city; at least, there never came any down where we lived. It was just like an oven all the time; it makes me feel faint to think how hot it must be there this morning; and only see how the curtains blow here!”

Through Dilly’s story Isabella was able to describe the beauty of Monteagle’s location. Dilly wrote home to her father to describe her hike up to the top of Table Mountain to see the sunset:

Father, I do just wish I could tell you about it! All gold, and crimson, and purple mountains all around, and red streaks away up into the sky, and castles in the sky made of glory color, and angels hurrying around to get ready for the sun to come home; that is the way it seemed, you know.

Dilly described other experiences in her letters home, including the things she learned on nature walks, at lectures in the amphitheater, and—most importantly—during Sunday-school classes:

Dear father, something very wonderful has come to me; I decided yesterday that I would belong to the Lord Jesus Christ.

When Isabella wrote those words she knew Dilly’s fictional experience was similar to the real-life experiences many visitors had at Monteagle.

In fact, Monteagle Sunday School Assembly was so successful, it remains a thriving Chautauqua community today!

You can find out more about Monteagle, their programs and events by clicking here.

Or click here to take a look at their latest newsletter that describes the many activities, lectures, Bible studies and sermons they have to offer.

You can find out more about Isabella’s novel Monteagle by clicking here.

Have you ever visited Monteagle or a similar summer assembly? Please share your experience!

Free Read: Elizabeth’s Anniversary Week

Isabella lived during a time when young men and women followed very strict social rules. For example, a gentleman could not speak to or even correspond with a woman without her permission; and often, the young woman couldn’t give permission without first consulting with her parents.

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In her 1898 novella “Elizabeth’s Anniversary Week” Isabella illustrated how those societal rules could end up causing difficulties, misunderstandings, and a lot of heartache.

Every September the Brockton family—aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings—gather to celebrate birthdays. The time-honored tradition should bring joy to all who attend, but Mrs. Brockton can’t help but notice her cherished daughter Elizabeth is far from happy about the annual event. In fact, she’s beginning to suspect some sickness has befallen Elizabeth to cause her to be so melancholy. But Elizabeth has a secret, one she has been trying hard to conceal from everyone, especially her mother.

You can read “Elizabeth’s Anniversary Week” for free!

Choose the reading option you like best:

You can read the story on your computer, phone, tablet, Kindle, or other electronic device. Just click here to download your preferred format from BookFunnel.com.

Or you can select BookFunnel’s “My Computer” option to receive an email with a version you can read, print, and share with friends.

Pansy in Paperback

At the height of her popularity Isabella’s books were published in several languages and sold all over the world.

She had a large fan base in England, and in the 1890s a British publisher took the unusual step of publishing Isabella’s novels as pamphlets. Today, we’d call them paperback books.

Cover of Four Girls at Chautauqua. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows three young women dressed in gowns and bonnets of the 1890s on the deck of a boat. Two of the ladies are seated while the third stands facing them. In the background other people stand at the railing and look out over the water at the coastline in the distance.

S. W. Partridge & Co. of London advertised the books as “Partridge’s Cheap Pansy Series.” Each edition included a list of the available titles in the series:

A portion of the front matter contained in the books announcing Partridge's Cheap "Pansy" series at fourpence each. Other books in the series:
Mrs. Solomon Smith Looking On 
Links in Rebecca's Life
Chrissy's Endeavour
The King's Daughter
Ester Ried
Ester Ried Yet Speaking
Ruth Erskine's Crosses
Chautauqua Girls at Home
Three People
Wise an Otherwise
An Endless Chain

The novels measured 7-1/2” by 10-3/4”, making them slightly smaller than the 8-1/2 by 11” standard paper Americans use today. They were only 64 pages long, but thanks to their 2-column layout and small type, each novel was complete and compact enough to fit into a lady’s bag.

Page one of Four Girls at Chautauqua. The text is formatted in two columns in small type.

In fact, Partridge & Co. published them particularly for women travelers. They were sold at newsstands in railway stations throughout England and cost just four pennies.

A portion of the cover of Four Girls at Chautauqua, showing the price of the book: fourpence.

Each book featured a beautifully embellished, full-color cover that illustrated a particular scene from the story. Here’s the cover for Chautauqua Girls at Home:

Cover of Chautauqua Girls at Home. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows a young woman seated at a piano, playing and singing. Standing behind her are a young woman and two young men, each holding music books and singing.

The cover art for Ruth Erskine’s Crosses shows the moment Ruth’s father introduced her to Judge Burnham.

Cover of Ruth Erskine's Crosses. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows an older man in coat and hat introducing a young woman to an older man who is in the process of removing his hat. In the background are two other women. One is removing her coat while the other unties the cords on a large box.

What do you think of the depiction of this important scene? Is that how you pictured Judge Burnham when you first read Ruth Erskine’s Crosses?

The cover for Julia Ried shows the moment Julia went to apply for the bookkeeping job at the box factory.

Cover of Julia Ried. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows a young woman dressed in coat and bonnet and carrying a parasol. She has just entered a room and her hand is still on the doorknob. She faces an older man dressed in a suit with a watch fob and chain in the pocket of his waistcoat. The room he is in contains boxes, a table with books on top and shelves with large books or bound ledgers.

In addition to the cover, each book had anywhere from five to nine black and white illustrations. This one, in Julia Ried, depicts the moment Dr. Douglass introduced Julia to Mrs. Tyndale.

Illustration of a man in 1890s clothing introducing a young woman wearing cape and bonnet to an older woman who is wearing a fashionable gown and a cap.

Mottos were very popular in the 1890s, and this motto appeared at the end of Julia Ried:

Your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. (I Cor. II. 5.)

It very nicely sums up one of the lessons Julia learned in the story.

Often, mottoes like this one were used as inexpensive sources of artwork. Ladies cut them from the pages of books and magazines and pasted them into scrapbooks or framed them to hang on the wall.

Cover of Ester Ried Yet Speaking. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows a young girl sitting on the floor beside a vase holding two white flowers.

Ester Ried Yet Speaking also ends with a motto related to the story:

Let us not be weary in well doing. (Cal. VI. 9.)

The cover for Interrupted illustrates the moment Claire Benedict learned her father’s money was gone and the family was bankrupt.

Cover of Interrupted. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows a young woman dressed in black facing three men who are seated, each holding their hats and walking sticks. Beside the young woman is seated an older woman also dressed in black.

One of the black-and-white illustrations shows the moment Claire suggests to her students that they take on the job of cleaning up the church sanctuary:

Illustration of Claire seated as the piano, one hand on the keyboard, but she has turned slightly to face five girls who are standing nearby. Caption: "This suggestion for a moment struck them dumb."

It wasn’t uncommon for the titles of Pansy’s novels to be changed when they were published in other countries. One Commonplace Day was one such novel; in England it was renamed Wise to Win:

Cover of Wise to Win. Printed in color with Victorian-era borders and flourishes. A central illustration shows a young woman and young man conversing in a parlor or living room. In the background are two women, one standing and one seated at a table near a fireplace.

These paperback books all have some wear and tear, but considering the fact that they’re over 130 years old, they are in remarkably good shape. Perhaps they’ll last another hundred years for a new generation of Pansy readers to enjoy!

What do you think of these paperbacks?

Do you have a favorite cover?

Click here to read a previous post about mottos.

Advice to Anxious Mothers of Daughters

How often have you thought—or heard someone say—“Our little girls are growing up too fast!”

We tend to think of it as a modern-day problem, but in 1897 mothers were coping with the very same concern. Isabella received so many letters on the topic, she dedicated one of her advice columns to “anxious mothers of daughters.”

Here’s what Isabella wrote:

I have a package of letters from anxious mothers. I hold them tenderly, for there are heart-throbs in every line. I study and pray over them and wish—Oh, so earnestly!—that I knew how to help. Instead, I have resolved to tell our girls what some mothers fear: That their daughters—their young, sweet daughters, whom they would guard with jealous care from every form of the world’s contamination—are having the bloom of their beautiful girlhood brushed away by too early friendships with young men, or, as they frankly put it, with “the boys.”

One mother writes that her fourteen-year-old daughter’s mind is in danger of being taken up with the thought of “beaux.” She lives in the country, and associates almost of necessity with those who talk much about “beaux” and about “keeping company” with this or that boy. Not only this, but she has for associates those who believe in “kissing games” and all such practices.

What can you do?

Ah, dear, I don’t know. Except this—the same thing that I have said before, only I want to say it more emphatically, if I can:

Will you not use every inch of influence you possess to help anxious mothers, and to protect young and oftentimes motherless girls from the sort of harm that comes from playing with ideas that should be held sacred?

Sometimes uncultured guests do harm in this way:

A merry-faced couple—girl and boy aged perhaps ten and twelve—were hurrying down the street side by side, swinging their book-bags and chatting and laughing.

“Hasn’t Alice come yet?” asked the mother in a home.

“Here she comes,” said a guest who was in the doorway. “Here she comes with her little beau. Dear me, Alice, why didn’t you kiss each other? When I was of your age, and had little beaux come home with me, I always kissed them good-by.”

The mother came forward swiftly, a spot of red glowing on each cheek. “Alice does not know even the meaning of the word beau,” she said, “and she keeps her kisses for her father and brothers.”

Oh, the infinite harm that coarse and careless tongues can do to these young buds before their time of blossoming! Remember how much influence older sisters have in these directions. Nor is their influence confined to the young people of their own homes, if they are wise-hearted Christian workers.

What do you think of Isabella’s advice?

Have you ever seen someone tease a child about boyfriends, like the “coarse and careless guest” Isabella described?

You can read more of Isabella’s advice columns. Just type “advice” in the search box on the right.

On the Lookout (Committee)

Last week’s free story “A Christian Endeavor Picnic” ended with this interesting sentence:

When the merry party from the city completed their six weeks’ vacation and went home, they left a Christian Endeavor Society in the quiet seaside village fully organized and Henry Myers and Katrine Hempel are both on the lookout committee.

What, exactly, was a “lookout committee”?

As the name suggests, the Lookout Committee was responsible for bringing new members into a Christian Endeavor Society, but the committee members did so much more!

They were also responsible for educating potential members about their responsibilities. Joining a C.E. society was a major commitment, and it was the members of the Lookout Committee who ensured applicants understood everything membership entailed.

The most important requirement for a member was signing the C. E. covenant, which read:

Trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for strength, I promise Him that I will strive to do whatever He would like to have me do; that I will pray and read the Bible every day; and that, just as far as I know how, I will try to lead a Christian life. I will be present at every meeting of the Society when I can, and will take some part in every meeting.

The Lookout Committee’s job wasn’t over once a new member joined. They called on members who missed even one prayer-meeting to encourage them to honor their commitment. They counseled members who were unfaithful to the covenant, and sometimes they had to make crucial decisions about when and how to drop members from their society.

At times, Lookout Committee members must have had a very difficult job!

But, as Rev. Clark summed it up, it was the Lookout Committee’s duty to keep the society active, earnest, efficient, and spiritually minded. A difficult task? Yes, but he regularly reminded Lookout Committee members that . . .

“You can do it through Him who strengtheneth you.”

Did you know Christian Endeavor Societies had such strict requirements for joining?

What do you think of the pledge new Christian Endeavor members were required to sign?

You can read more about Isabella’s involvement with Christian Endeavor in these previous posts:

Chrissy’s Endeavor Pin

A Chorus of Four-thousand Voices

Free Read: Mine

Free Read: Her Opportunity