(Continued from Part 1.)
As I mentioned, there are other categories of books-as-tools. Reference books– dictionaries, encyclopedias, foreign language dictionaries, books of mathematical tables– are among them (and are some of my favorites). With respect to dictionaries and encyclopedias, I recommend ones from various points in time. Word meanings change. For example, in Webster’s Elementary-School Dictionaryiv (1925) the first definition of ‘mend’ is “to free from flaws or defects—as in to mend one’s manners or ways; to correct; as to mend a fault; also, to repair; to put in shape again; as, to mend clothes, shoes.” Note that the emphasis of four of the seven clauses relates to behavior, not darning stockings. Contrast that with the definition at Dictionary.comxiv
As testimony to the worth I place in encyclopedias, I have 16 sets ranging from 1903 to 2010. I could write 3,000 words on the value of old encyclopedias, but I’ll leave this topic for another day. Here I strongly encourage you to include a set of children’s encyclopedias arranged topically, not alphabetically, in your library of old books. The Book of Knowledge: The Children’s Encyclopedia (many editions),xv is very good, though my very favorite is Our Wonder World: A Library of Knowledge in Ten Volumes (many editions).xvi When the lights go out and the kids get bored, these are fun, educational, and potentially life-saving!
My love of old books, especially old children’s books, compels me to call to your attention something quite disconcerting. Archive dot org is (was?) a treasure. When I blog about an old book, Archive is my go-to source for screenshot images of the book’s illustrations. The other day I was writing about a 12-volume collection of tales, fables, and poetry for kids, titled, for example, Through the Gate of My Book House Vol. 4 (1937).xvii That volume at Archive has a “limited preview.” Nothing beyond the table of contents is available. All of the volumes are limited; Volume 10 of Our Wonder World as well. This was new to me. I honestly suspect, given that I’ve looked through the actual books and know what’s in them, that they are being censored. Through the Gate has a poem about a white girl’s evening with “colored” folks, and the language to today’s ear is downright comical. It’s ridiculous to think of this as objectionable. In discussions of vocations and life’s work in Our Wonder World, boys’ jobs are treated separately from girls’. The section titled, “Home vocations for girls,” includes dress-making, learning to type, and the home tea room. It was 1923. Nevertheless, deciding what content children can or cannot be exposed to is a parent’s job, not Archives. This alone should make you want to preserve old books.
Old books filled with (often hand-calculated) values for, e.g., the sine of a 50° angle, come in handy. How else are you going to calculate how long ‘side c’ needs to be to hold your portable solar panel at optimal angle of incidence of 50° when the lights go out?
The penultimate category of old books-as-tools I’ll mention is old textbooks. If you homeschool and don’t have old textbooks, then you and your students are missing out. Their value to the preservation of Western Culture– and to the culture you will be forced to re-create when the lights really go out– goes well beyond their role in teaching reading, writing, and ’rithmetic. Their authors were in the business of transmitting Western and American history and culture to a younger generation.
A few questions from Ray’s Modern Practical Arithmetic, quoted directly (1908, 1st ed. 1877, p27):xviii
49. George Washington was born in A.D. 1732, and lived 67 years. In what year did he die?
50. Alfred the Great died in A.D. 901; thence, to the signing of the Magna Carta was 314 years; thence to the American Revolution, 560 years. In what year did the American Revolution begin?
66. The area of the United States up to 1897 was 3681661 square miles. Since then there have been added the territory of Hawaii containing 6449 square miles; Porto Rico, 3531 square miles; Philippine Islands, 114410 square miles; Guam, 150 square miles; Tutuila, 77 square miles; and Wake Island, I square mile. What is the present area of the United States?
Note that there is no apology for American colonialism. They don’t make textbooks like old textbooks anymore! Looking at the table of contents to Stepping Stones to Literature: A Reader for Seventh Gradesxix (1898), you would think it was edited not just by two Americans but by two Americans who loved their country. From “The American Flag,” by Henry Ward Beecher:
The stars upon it were to the pining nations like the morning stars of God, and the stripes upon it were like morning beams of light. … They have floated over our cradles; let it be our prayer and our struggle that they shall float over our graves. (p226)
In this– and in many others of the time– we find “Rules of Behavior,” by George Washington. This one may become particularly salient when the lights go out:
Associate yourself with men of good quality, if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company. (p134)
Many older textbooks, especially those used in upper grades, teach very practical information which may not otherwise be available when the lights go out. Do you know how to estimate the height of a tree? What are the relative percentages of water, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in horse, cattle, sheep, swine, and hen manures? With respect to the transmission of power using driver and driven gears, did you know that the rule is: # of teeth of driver times RPM of the driver equals # teeth of driven gear times RPM of driven gear? How much does a bushel of green unshelled peas weigh? A bushel of shelled lima beans? (30 and 56 pounds, respectively) When the lights go out, your neighbor– the lima bean farmer– is going to come asking you– the fellow with the horse and plow– to till his field. Do you know how to calculate cost per hour of horse labor? This very practical information is contained in Modern Agricultural Mathematics (1952),xx a text for “Students of Agriculture in High Schools, Vocational Schools, and Rural Schools.”
Finally, consider that Mother Nature will not care that we’ve arrived at TEOTWAWKI. She will continue to pelt us with blizzards, tornadoes, and hurricanes. When the lights go out, NOAA Weather Radio alerts, local TV station text alerts, and Twitter feeds from @USTorndoes will go silent. if you come across an elementary textbook in meteorology written before computer model forecasting, grab it! The one I like is Weather Elements (1965, 1st ed. 1937),xxi but there are many others. Remember, when the lights go out, your life may depend upon your ability to read the clouds.
You’ve guessed by now that the old books I’ve mentioned, and from which I’ve quoted, are among my personal friends. You may wonder, though, why there are two glaring omissions: The Bible or Torah, and Shakespeare. With regard to The Bible or Torah, if you are a spiritual person you have these; if you are not, you recognize their worth in a library preserving Western Culture (and the worth of e.g., The Illustrated Bible Story Bookxxii for children). With regard to Shakespeare, I’ve no better explanation for not including his works, as the finest of ornaments, than “duh.”
Which brings me to one last friend with whom I’d like you to be acquainted, Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare (1902, 1st ed. 1807).xxiii The authors, Charles and Mary Lamb (brother and sister), retell the stories from 20 of Shakespeare’s plays, both comedies and tragedies, in narrative form. Their intended readers are children (though today they are wonderful for adults whose knowledge of Shakespeare may be lacking). These are not one dimensional. They are rich in and of themselves. A sample of the Lamb’s writing, from the “Preface:”
What these tales shall have been to young readers, that and much more it is the writers’ wish that the true Plays of Shakespeare may prove to them in older years– enrichers of the fancy, strengtheners of virtue, a withdrawing from all selfish and mercenary thoughts, a lesson of all sweet and honourable thoughts and actions, to teach courtesy, benignity, generosity, humanity; for of examples teaching these virtues, his pages are full. (p ix)
Isn’t that the sort of friend you want nearby when “the lights go out” and “times get hard”?
(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 3.)
References for Parts 1 & 2:
iThe Guide to Reading: The Pocket University Volume XXIII. Lyman Abbott, Asa Don Dickinson, et al., eds. Nelson Doubleday, Inc., for Doubleday, Page & Company, Garden City, New York. 1925.
iiAn American Dictionary of the English Language. Noah Webster. Chauncey A. Goodrich, revised and enlarged. Donohue & Henneberry Publishers. 1892.
iiiWebster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language Reference History Edition. W.T. Harris and F. Sturges, eds. G. & C. Merriam Company, Springfield, Mass, U.S.A. 1916.
ivWebster’s Elementary-School Dictionary: Abridged from Webster’s New International Dictionary. American Book Company, New York. 1925.
vGlorious Gardens: A Portfolio of Ideas for Planting and Design. Francesca Greenoak. Congdon & Weed, Inc, New York. 1989.
viRiley Farm-Rhymes with Country Pictures. James Whitcomb Riley. The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis. 1901.
viiEuripides: Medea, Hippolytus, The Bacchae. Euripides. Philip Vellacott, trans. The Easton Press, Norwalk, Connecticut. 1980.
viiiEtchers and Etching: Chapters in the History of the Art Together with Technical Explanations of Modern Artistic Methods Fourth Edition. Ioseph Pennell. The Macmillan Company, New York. 1936.
ixA Treasury of Grand Opera: Don Giovanni, Lohengrin, La Traviata, Faust, Aida, Carmen, Pagliacci.Henry W. Simon. Simon And Schuster, New York. 1946.
xShopwork on the Farm. Mack M. Jones. McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. 1945.
xiWoman’s Institute Library of Dressmaking: Care of Clothing. Mary Brooks Picken. “Mending” p. 1.
xiiThe Modern Family Cook Book. Meta Given. J.G. Ferguson Publishing Company, Chicago. 1958.
xiiiPopular Science Do-It-Yourself Encyclopedia Illustrated Edition. Alrich Publishing Co., Inc. 1956.
xvThe Book of Knowledge: The Children’s Encyclopedia. The Grolier Society Inc., New York. (many editions)
xviOur Wonder World: A Library of Knowledge in Ten Volumes. Geo. L. Shuman & Co., Chicago and Boston. (many editions)
xvii Through the Gate of My Book House Vol. 4. Olive Beaupré Miller, ed. The Book House for Children, Chicago. 1937.
xviiiRay’s Modern Practical Arithmetic: A Revised Edition of Ray’s Practical Arithmetic. American Book Company, New York, Cincinnati, Chicago. 1908.
xixStepping Stones to Literature: A Reader for Seventh Grades. Sarah Louis Arnold and Charles B. Gilbert. Silver, Burdett and Company, New York. 1898.
xx Modern Agricultural Mathematics. Maurice Nadler. Orange Judd Publishing Company, Inc., New York. 1952.
xxi Weather Elements: A Text in Elementary Meteorology Fifth Edition. Thomas A. Blair and Robert C. Fite. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Cliffs, NJ. 1965.
xxiiThe Illustrated Bible Story Book: New Testament. Seymour Loveland. Rand McNally & Company, Chicago. 1925.
xxiii Tales from Shakespeare. Charles and Mary Lamb. Ginn & Company, Boston. 1902.