Monday, August 22, 2011

"MORAL CATECHISM" (1798) - Noah Webster

From Noah Webster's, "The American Spelling Book" (Boston. 1798), pp. 145-52.

A Moral Catechism: Or Lessons for Saturday

Question. What is moral virtue?

Answer. It is an honest upright conduct in all our dealings with men.

Q. Can we always determine what is honest and just?

A. Perhaps not in every instance, but in general it is not difficult.

Q. What rules have we to direct us?

A. God's word contained in the Bible has furnished all necessary rules to direct our conduct.

Q. In what part of the Bible are these rules to be found?

A. In almost every part; but the most important duties between men are summed up in the beginning of Matthew, in Christ's Sermon on the Mount.

Of Humility

Q. What is humility?

A. A lowly temper of mind.

Q. What are the advantages of humility?

A. The advantages of humility in this life are very numerous and great. The humble man has few or no enemies. Every one loves him and is ready to do him good. If he is rich and prosperous, people do not envy him; if he is poor and unfortunate, every one pities him, and is disposed to alleviate his distresses.

Q. What is pride?

A. A lofty high minded disposition.

Q. Is pride commendable?

A. By no means. A modest self-approving opinion of our own good deeds is very right. It is natural; it is agreeable; and a spur to good actions. But we should not suffer our hearts to be blown up with pride, whatever great and good deeds we have done; for pride brings upon us the will of mankind, and displeasure of our Maker.

Of Mercy

Q. What is mercy?

A. It is tenderness of heart.

Q. What are the advantages of this virtue?

A. The exercise of it tends to happify every one about us. Rulers of a merciful temper will make their good subjects happy; and will not torment the bad, with needless severity. Parents and masters will not abuse their children and servants with harsh treatment. More love, more confidence, more happiness, will subsist among men, and of course society will be happier.

Of Justice

Q. What is justice?

A. It is giving to every man his due.

Q. Is it always easy to know what is just?

A. It is generally easy; and where -there is any difficulty in determining, let a man consult the golden rule--"To do to others, what he could reasonably wish they should do to him, in the same circumstances."

Of Truth

Q. What is truth?

A. It is speaking and acting agreeable to fact.

Q. Is it a duty to speak truth at all times?

A. If we speak at all, we should tell the truth. It is not always necessary to tell what we know. There are many things which concern ourselves and others, which we had better not publish to the world.

Of Charity and Giving Alms

Q. What is charity?

A. It signifies giving to the poor, or it is a favorable opinion of men and their actions.

Q. When and how far is it our duty to give to the poor?

A. When others really want what we can spare without material injury to ourselves, it is our duty to give them something to relieve their wants.

Q. When persons are reduced to want by their own laziness and vices, by drunkenness, gambling and the like, is it a duty to relieve them?

A. In general it is not. The man who gives money and provisions to a lazy vicious man, becomes a partaker of his guilt. Perhaps it may be right, to give such a man a meal of victuals to keep him from starving, and it is certainly right to feed his wife and family, and make them comfortable.

Of Avarice

Q. What is avarice?

A. An excessive desire of gaining wealth.

Q. Is this commendable?

A. It is not; but one of the meanest of vices. ...

Of Frugality and Economy

Q. What is the distinction between frugality and avarice?

A. Frugality is a prudent saving of property from needless waste. Avarice gathers more and spends less than is wanted.

Q. What is economy?

A. It is frugality in expenses--it is a prudent management of one's estate. It disposes of property for useful purposes without waste.

Q. How far does true economy extend?

A. To the saving of every thing which it is not necessary to spend for comfort and convenience; and the keeping one's expenses within his income or earnings.

Q. What is wastefulness?

A. It is the spending of money for what is not wanted. If a man drinks a dram, which is not necessary for him, or buys a cane which he does not want, he wastes his money. He injures himself, as much as if he had thrown away his money.

Of Industry

Q. What is industry?

A. It is a diligent attention to business in our several occupations.

Q. Is labour a curse or a blessing?

A. Hard labor or drudgery is often a curse by making life toilsome and painful. But constant moderate labor is the greatest blessing.

Q. Why then do people complain of it?

A. Because they do not know the evils of not labouring. Labor keeps the body in health, and makes men relish all their enjoyments. "The sleep of the laboring man is sweet," so is his food. He walks cheerfully and whistling about his fields or shop, and scarcely knows pain. The rich and indolent first lose their health for want of action--They turn pale, their bodies are enfeebled, they lose their appetite for food and sleep, they yawn out a tasteless stupid life without pleasure, and often useless to the world.

Noah Webster, 1798

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