January” is one of Robert Merry’s Museum’s New Year’s addresses; its definition of “civilization” is one the Museum upheld throughout its history. The illustration was used exactly 10 years later at the head of a piece on the month of January in the Museum’s January 1854 issue.

“January” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, January 1844; pp. 1-4)
January surveys his icy domain of polar bears and reindeer-drawn sleds

Well—here we are again! The old year has passed away, and the new one has come. How rapidly the months have flown! It seems but a brief space since our last farewell to the old year,—and since we greeted you all with wishes of a happy new one. And yet, within that space, this great world on which we live has made its annual journey of three hundred millions of miles around the sun—and we have kept it company. The year 1843 has departed, and carried up to heaven its record of good and of evil!

And we are now at the threshold of another year; we are about to begin a new race—to perform a new journey. The year 1844 is an untried region—an unknown country. What may be there in store for us, we cannot say. But let us start with cheerful hearts, with hopeful anticipations, and with a stock of good resolutions.

It is the first day of January,—that cold and stormy month, which the ancients represented under the image of an old man, with a long beard,—such as appears at the head of this article. Boys and girls—I wish you all a happy new year! But what are mere wishes?

p. 2

They are idle breath—a mockery of words, unless the heart goes with them. And my heart, on the present occasion, does go with my words. I not only wish you a happy new year, my friends, but, so far as in me lies, I intend to make it a happy one for my readers. I have in store for them—not cake and candy—not sweetmeats and sugar-plums—but rhymes and riddles—fables and allegories—prose and poetry—lays and legends—fact and fancy—in short, a general assortment of such things as belong to a literary museum for young people. And although I profess to deal in matters that may amuse my friends, I have still a desire that, while they are entertained, they shall be instructed. The only way to be happy—really and truly happy—is to be wise; and wisdom comes through teaching—through education. I think I can make this very plain, if you will listen to me a few moments.

You know there are such people as savages—those who roam wild in the woods, or dwell in wigwams, sitting upon the ground, and sleeping upon the skins of beasts; those who have no books, nor schools, nor churches; those who have never read the Bible; those who know not Jesus Christ, nor the ten commandments.

Well—what makes the difference between these wild, savage people, and those who live in good houses, in towns and cities, and have all the comforts and conveniences of life? Knowledge makes the whole difference, and knowledge comes by instruction—by education. Do my little readers know that without education they would be savages? Yet is is really so. All are born alike—the child of the savage, and the child of the Christian. One grows up a savage, because its father and mother do not send it to school—do not furnish it books, do not teach it to read and to write. The other grows up a Christian, because it is instructed—it is educated. Education, therefore, makes us to differ.

Now, what do you think of this? Do you observe, that all our little friends, who hate books, and school, and instruction, are trying to be like little savages? Bah! I hope none of my readers are so unreasonable. I hope they see that it is best for them to be Christians—and as far as possible from the savage state. I think one thing is very clear: our good Father in heaven, whom we ought all to love and obey, did not intend us to be savages; and, at the same time, he has provided only one way to avoid it—and that is by education. He makes it our duty, therefore, as well as our happiness, to seek instruction—education.

This design of Providence is very apparent, when we compare man with animals. Birds and beasts do not go to school; they are provided with all needful knowledge by that power which we call instinct. A little chicken, only a day old, will run about and pick up seeds, which lie scattered among the stones and dirt. How does the chicken know that seeds are made to eat, and that stones are not made to eat? How does the chicken distinguish the wholesome and nutritious seed, from the dirt and gravel? God has taught it—God has given it a wonderful instinct, by which it is guided in he choice and discovery of its food.

p. 3

But the infant has no such instinct; left to itself, it will pick up dirt, stones, pins—anything that comes in its way—and put all into its little greedy mouth! The child has to be taught everything by its parents or its nurse. It must be taught what is good and what is evil—what to seek, and what to shun.

The chicken runs about, as soon as it is hatched; the child must be taught first to creep, then to walk. The chicken, left to itself, though but a day old, will hide from the hawk that would devour it; the child, if left to itself, would as soon go into the fire, or the water, or the bear’s mouth, as anywhere else. The chicken is guided by instinct—the child by instruction.

Thus it appears, that, while instinct is the guide of the animal world, education is the instrument by which children are to reach their true destiny. God meant us to be educated; and children who hate education, hate God’s will and God’s way; they hate the road that leads to their own happiness. Think of that—black-eyes and blue-eyes!—think that when you resist instruction, you resist the will of Providence, and sin against your own peace! The designs of Providence, in respect to animals and mankind, appear very striking from other considerations. Now a beaver is a natural architect, and his instinct not only teaches him the art of house-building, but he has a set of tools ready furnished. He has sharp teeth, with which he cuts down trees, and divides them into proper lengths: thus his teeth answer both as hatchet and saw. His tail is flat, and when he has laid on his mortar, he turns round and spats it with his tail, which operates like a mason’s trowel. So here is a carpenter and mason, both in one, educated by nature and provided with a set of tools, scot free. What a happy fellow!

So it is with the woodpecker; he never learnt a trade, or paid a shilling for tools—yet he knows how to chisel out his hole in a dry tree—and his bill answers as both gouge and hammer. The spider has no shuttle or loom; he never had a lesson in the factories of Lowell—yet he weaves his ingenious web—and he sets it, too, so as to take his prey.

Surely, Providence has taken care of these creatures in a wonderful way. And perhaps you think that God has been more kind to them than to human beings; for while He teaches the animal word, He leaves children to schoolmasters; and while He teaches the beavers and the birds their trade, and furnishes their tools, gratis—boys and girls must serve seven years for a trade, and pay for their tools when they have done!

But let us look a little farther. It is true that if children refuse to learn—refuse to be educated—they remain ignorant, and like savages. But children can learn, if they will. Education is offered to them—and, if it is improved, what is the result? Look around, and see what mankind, who have obyee the will of God, and who have improved their faculties by education,—see what they are, and what they have done. The instinct of the beaver is very wonderful—but, after all, it only enables the beaver to build rude mounds of earth, wood and stone, which serve as its abode; and also enables it to provide its

p. 4

simple food of roots and grass and fruits. This is the whole stretch of instinct.

But let us look at the results of education, operating upon the faculites of man. Look at Boston—what a mighty city! How many houses—and if we go into them, how beautiful—how convenient! Look at the paved streets—the pleasant side-walks! Go into the shops, and see the beautiful merchandises. Go into the Museum, in Tremont street, and see the wonders there, gathered from the four quarters of the globe. Go down to the waters and see the ships, made to plough the mighty ocean, and hold intercourse with the ends of the earth. Go to the Atheneum, and see the stores of knowledge, which man has discovered. Go to the churches, and see the people holding communion with that God who built the earth, and spread out the heavens. Open the bible, and read the wonders of revelation—the immortality of the soul—the mighty plan of man’s salvation. Go to the fireside, and see the comfort—the peace—the happiness, which are there. And remember that all these things—every one of them—is the product of education. Oh, who then would be content with instinct, merely because it is easy, and costs nothing; and spurn education, because it requires effort?

Education, then, is a great and glorious thing; but remember that you must take advantage of it. The old adage says—“One man may lead a horse to water, but ten can’t make him drink.” It is so with children in education: it is easy to send them to school—easy to put books before them—easy to give them good counsel; but if they will not try to learn, they will not learn. You cannot teach an unwilling mind. When I was a boy, I caught a blue jay, and put him in a cage; but the fellow would n’t eat. I got hold of his head, and opened his mouth, and put some cherries down, but he would n’t swallow; and as soon as I let him go, he threw it all up; and so he died! Now, this is just the way with some boys and girls—they will not take knowledge into their minds; they reject good counsel; even if you cram it down, they throw it up. Is n’t that bad? Yes—very bad indeed.

Now—ladies and gentlemen—boys and girls—walk up,—here’s Merry’s Museum for 1844! We are going to set matters all right; we are going to show the advantages of education, the pleasures of education, the duty of education. We shall have our sweetmeats and sugar-plums, as we go along; but still—still—we mean to know a great deal more at the end of the year, than we do now! We mean to lay up a good stock of knowledge, which may last us through life. Who will go with us?

Copyright 1999-2024, Pat Pflieger
To “Nineteenth-Century American Children & What They Read
Some of the children | Some of their books | Some of their magazines
To “Voices from 19th-Century America
Some works for adults, 1800-1872
To Titles at this site | Authors at this site | Subjects at this site | Works by date | Map of the site

Talk to me.