Of books I sing, but not of those
Which any book collector knows,
The priceless, rare editions, not,
But volumes which the world forgot...
-- Frank Sherman in Century Magazine, 1889
I've always kind of liked old books; not necessarily classics, since they are continually reprinted, but old forgotten books. CS Lewis once said something to the effect that we should read old books because they give us a different perspective on life and the world. True, old books have errors and prejudices, but, as Lewis said, the biases of another age are much easier for us to spot, so we are not in great danger of being taken in by them. But it is hard not to be taken in by the prejudices our own age unless we have another perspective -- the kind of perspective that old books provide.
Following are a number of bits and pieces from old books and publications that I have found and enjoyed. Many of them, you will notice, have a Christian perspective . Anyway, enjoy.
Here is a series of musings about evolution and creation. I have an amateur's interest in the topic, but have no academic standing, so if you're an evolutionist and don't like this stuff, you are probably justified in throwing a missing link at me.
And on a related note, here are a few of my observations about Charles Darwin's classic, Origin of Species.
American poet Sydney Lanier explains why biblical poetry is different from all other great poetry: It's translatable. Here's why.
Want some free publicity in the local papers for your church? I've been writing press releases for my church, so I thought I'd show how to do it.
This is a small collection of aphorisms -- one-liners that illustrate concepts very briefly. If you like any or all of these, feel free to use them as you please.
This page includes several glimpses of the great Charles Spurgeon, a very quotable (see below), sometimes humorous and always powerful Baptist preacher in London during much of the 19th century.
This site contains the full New Testament, in updated King James style. It was a year-long project. I tried to maintain the force of the King James style while updating it enough to be clearly understood by modern readers
This site contains the words of Jesus organized by topic. The topics and verse references are from an old 19th century book called The Great Discourse, but the verses themselves are from the Revised King James New Testament. Sort of a combination of old and new.
The Battle of Gettysburg is generally considered the turning point in the American Civil War. Never again would the South penetrate so deeply into Northern territory. General Robert E. Lee (whom I once heard called "the best man ever to fight for a bad cause") could be beaten. Here is the story of the battle by one of the participants, the commander of the Federal artillery.
How can a good God permit evil? The Parson and the Angel is a paraphrase of a brief medieval tale which explores that question.
Yup. It's a picture of a desk belonging to the Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards. I just thought it was a cool old desk and I'd sure like to have one.
These are excerpts from an old Puritan classic from the 1600s on Heaven and Hell. The Puritans aren't very popular today, and I admit that after having read the book I have some sympathy for those who don't care for them, but some of their thoughts are very powerful, and I do admire their straightforward, no compromise dedication to serving God. In any case, their views are certainly a contrast to current-day views.
Anecdotes, published in 1838, is a little booklet that stresses personal holiness and teaches about the Christian life through a series of vignettes. My personal favorites are here.
This article is a personal glimpse of the famed Civil War general Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. It is from the Feb. 1894 Century Magazine and was written by General Daniel H. Hill, Jackson's brother in law. I've always thought Jackson was one of the finest Civil War generals. From his Shenandoah Valley Campaign Napoleon could have taken lessons.
I thought this passage from Martin Luther's Commentary on Galatians explained better than anything else I had read the difference between grace and works in the Christian life, so I rephrased it in contemporary English. Hope you enjoy it.
I thought this was a great description of how the government's power to take your money differs from that of your basic highwayman -- or if it does.
I was struck by the picture the author paints of his night on some great, still, snowy alp. Of how the darkness spoke to him of eternity and the spiritual world, and of how powerful and awful (in the old sense of the word) that eternity appeared.
This is a dramatic first-person account of the last hours of one of the United States' most historic ships, the ironclad USS Monitor. Ironically, after fighting the Confederate ironclad Merrimac (aka Virginia) to a standstill at Hampton Roads in the first-ever battle between ironclad ships, and after surviving the rest of the Civil War, the Monitor was lost in a storm while being towed.
I encountered the writings of Louis Agassiz in Guy Davenport's book, "The Intelligence of Louis Agassiz: A Specimen Book of Scientific Writings." After commending his brilliance, his incredible impact on zoology, and ability to communicate with a clarity superior to Darwin's, Davenport wonders why Agassiz couldn't see the truth of evolution. Perhaps the reason is the reason Agassiz gave -- the lack of evidence. More than 120 years after he wrote this article, Agassiz' arguments can stand pretty much as delivered. The same cannot be said for Darwin's.
Following are some things I've written, mostly about my experiences in the Army. And, yes, you are right, they aren't old and out of copyright like the rest of the stuff on this page. So sue me. :-)
Things that have struck me as funny or interesting or insightful and that don't fit nicely anywhere else.
When you enter the church, be very silent, never whisper, and
if any one tries to whisper with you appear not to hear them.
Kneel upright and reverently, and pray with your whole heart.
Keep your eyes fixed on your prayer-book or the altar, and do not
look about you. Wear the best that you have but gaudy,
conspicuous colors are in bad taste everywhere, especially in
church. True ladies do not use perfumery. It generally suggests
the endeavor to conceal the fact that you do not use enough soap
From Morals, Manners and Culture, in "Self-Culture for Young People" 1906
The German students have in like manner [to French students]
made war on two other silly [debating] formulas, which they term
the apple and the spinach argument. The apple argument is the
twitting of an opponent with a change of opinion, and it is so
called because an apple when accused of having changed color
answered that "it is only bad fruit which remains
green"; and the spinach argument is the self-congratulation
on the fact that one does not think like the opponent, and it is
so called because a lady once declared that she was very glad she
did not like spinach, for if she did, she would eat it, and she
could not bear it.
From "Notes on Parisian Newspapers," by Brander Matthews, in Century Magazine, Dec., 1887
I think this loopy argument amuses me because it is such a contrast to today. And perhaps because the author seems to be saying, "God forbid people should cast their votes based on their convictions."
Religious feuds would affect political life much more than under present circumstances. It is of immense importance to the welfare of this country that the separation of Church and State be complete. The feelings of women upon the subject of religion are so intense that the franchise, in a large majority of instances, would be exercised under the power of religious prejudice. John Bright, in one of his most important speeches on this subject, exclaimed, "Of one thing there is no doubt; the influence of priest, parson, and minister will be greatly increased if this measure is passed."
J. M. Buckley in "The Wrongs and Perils of Women Suffrage" in the August, 1894 Century Magazine.
A comment by the great English Baptist preacher Charles
Spurgeon about committees: "The best committee is a
committee of three, of whom one is away and another is home
Charles H. Spurgeon: His Faith and Works, by H.L. Wayland, 1892
Spurgeon was sickly during his later years and therefore (if
I'm understanding correctly) had to abstain from meats, such as
grouse. But he took it with good humor...
"He once said to some friends at his table: ... 'I will give you ten pounds if you will prove to me that that grouse is a vegetable, for then I can eat it.'"
Money is good, but who remembers who was the richest man in
Greece when Socrates lived there, or in Rome in the days of
Seneca, or in America when Washington was the father, or Lincoln
was the elder brother, of the nation?
William Byron Forbush, Making a Life, in "Self-Culture for Young People" Copyright 1906. (I've never heard of him before either.)
Surely God would not have created such a being as man, with an
ability to grasp the infinite, to exist only for a day. No, no,
man was made for immortality.
The people of the Middle Ages, who swore at all, used a great variety of oaths, and some of these were resonant and ringing phrases. But modern cursing is absolutely destitute of picturesqueness; it is made up of brutal blasphemies, jerky phrases, meaningless exclamations, or vulgarisms; and the people of the English-speaking world who swear at all nearly all swear in the same monotonous way, using no originality or deviation from the set phrases. All culture tends to variety in the use of words. The employment of the same set of ugly and repulsive words in the form of oaths, day after day, and week after week, is a sign of a mind that moves in ruts. Oaths are sometimes called 'strong language;' whereas they are essentially weak language, as all set phrases are.
From Profane and Vulgar Speech, an excerpt from Making the Most of Ourselves, by Calvin Dill Wilson D.D. in "Self Culture for Young People." Copyright 1906.
By the way, I'm quoting this out of context. Wilson is condemning cursing, not calling for more creative cursing. ;-)
A dairymaid can milk cows to the glory of God.
The night has a deeper voice, and it speaks with a more solemn
emphasis to the soul when it surrounds us with darkness and makes
us feel that we are alone with ourselves and God.
From Night Scenes in the Bible, 1880
Never give in! Never give in! Never, never, never. Never -- in
anything great or small, large or petty -- never give in except
to convictions of honor and good sense.
A child brought me a pebble, white and smooth and round.
"What a wonderful thing!" he said.
"Wonderful?" said I. There are millions and millions of things like that."
"Then," he said, "There are millions and millions of wonderful things."
Century Magazine, May, 1894
A good memory is no evidence of superior intelligence.
We cannot spare any of the passions, for what are the virtues but the passions subdued.
If "ignorance is bliss," I am more convinced every day there is a great deal of happiness in this world.
There is just about humility enough in the whole world to supply one man with what he needs; and pray, what are the rest of us going to do?
Uncle Esek's Wisdom, Century Magazine, 1886
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