A Very Odd Grandfather” points out the limits of human knowledge—an unusual theme in Robert Merry’s Museum, which in its early years strove to present young readers with information on a wide range of subjects.

“A Very Odd Grandfather” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, November 1852; pp. 142-143)

“Grandfather, I want to ask you a great many questions,” said Caleb. “I should like to talk you about flowers and fruit, ships and mountains, and a great many other things.”

“But why do you come to me, Caleb? Why not ask your brother Robert, or your cousin Charles?”

“O, because they would not be able to tell me. You have lived so many years in the world, and are so very wise, and know every thing.”

“Know every thing! You must have made a mistake somehow or other. Know every thing! Why I do not even know how much money there is in the Bank of England; nor who it was that built the pyramids; nor why it is that the needle in the compass always points to the north: and I am sure that I do not know half so much of God’s goodness, and the evil of my own heart, as I ought to know.”

“Perhaps not, grandfather; but then you know more than other people, for you have been over the wide sea, and seen every thing.”

“Seen every thing! O, no! I never saw the emperor of Japan, nor the inside of a burning volcano, nor a sea-serpent a hundred yards long; and, besides these, there are other things that I never saw, for I never yet saw a wicked person that was truly and lastingly happy, nor a wise man who did not love his Bible.”

“Yes, grandfather; but I do not mean such things as those: you must have seen a great deal of the world, for you have been every where.”

p. 143

“Been every where! How came you to think so? I have never been to the bottom of the sea, nor to the top of the Andes, nor in the middle of the earth. I have never been in the lion’s den, nor in the closet of the queen’s chief counselors, neither have I kneeled down in a humble, prayerful spirit, half so frequently as I might have done.”

“Well, grandfather, whether you have been to those places or not, you have been to others and learned a great deal. Why, you can do almost every thing.”

“Do almost every thing! Why, if I could, I would heal all the sick, relieve all the poor, instruct all the ignorant, turn all the Jews, Turks, infidels, and heathen into Christians, and make you, Caleb, as happy as an angel.”

“Thank you, grandfather; I know that if you could do every thing you would do a great deal of good to every body. I never knew any body read so much as you do, you seem to have read every thing.”

“Read every thing! Why, I know next to nothing of High Dutch, very few words of Arabic and Chinese, and have never even read half the writing on the mummy cases in the British Museum. There are thousands of books that I cannot read thousands that I would not read if I could, and thousands that I have not read which I willingly would read had I the time and opportunity. I wish I had read ten times more than I have read of my Bible, Caleb; for then should I be a wiser man than I am, and most likely a much better and happier man.”

“I wish I had read half as much as you have. I wish I was half as wise; but that I never shall be. If you do not know every thing, you are able to find out every thing.”

“Find out every thing! I have never found out where the spectacles are that I lost a year ago, and know not where to look for them. I have not found out the missing ships at the north pole, nor yet made the discovery how to square the circle. And I am very sure, Caleb, that if I were to study for seven years together, I should never find out any other way to heaven than the way set forth in the Holy Scripture, even Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. You have given me credit, Caleb, for a great deal more than you ought to have done.”

After this playful discourse—for Caleb’s grandfather loved a little joking—he answered all his grandson’s questions in a sober, serious, and kind-hearted way, much to his delight. The time passed away very pleasantly, and as Caleb walked away he said to himself, “I do love grandfather very dearly, for he is one of the very best, very wisest, and very kindest men in the whole world; but still I do think that he is a very odd grandfather.”

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