“Ring Out the New, Ring In the Old?” A New Year’s Meditation

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Jan 3, 2014 1 Comment ›› John Eidsmoe

“Ring Out the New, Ring In the Old?” A New Year’s Meditation

“Ring Out the New, Ring In the Old?” A New Year’s Meditation
John Eidsmoe, COL(AL), Senior Counsel, Foundation for Moral Law

Hardly anyone today remembers “copybook headings,” and those who remember them probably consider them a tedious and outmoded way of learning. But millions of English and American children in the 1800s and early 1900s learned to write legibly, even neatly, through the copybooks, and they learned some good common-sense moral lessons as well.

Here’s how the copybooks worked: At the top of each page was a heading, consisting of a common saying. Some were Biblical truths such as “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” or “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Some were simple common sense, not necessarily from the Bible but consistent with Biblical morality, such as “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” “A penny saved is a penny earned,” “Speculation always ends in tears,” “Don’t take risks that you don’t understand,” and others. As the child copied the heading over and over on the rest of the page, his handwriting would conform to that of the heading, and hopefully the moral lesson would sink in as well.

Writing in 1919, Rudyard Kipling was concerned that the timeless truths of the ages were being forgotten, and that people were abandoning them for modern trendy ideas, theories, and modes of thought and action. These trendy ideas he described as the “Gods of the Market,” meaning the ever-changing marketplace of ideas. Although these Gods of the Market ever shifted with time and place, they agreed that the old outworn truths, which Kipling called the “Gods of the Copybook Headings” were boring and unnecessary in the modern age.

But the problem with these trendy ideas, the Gods of the Market, is that they simply don’t work in practice. Eventually they crash and burn, and they bring down a lot of people with them. And as they do, the old, outworn Gods of the Copybook Headings reassert themselves.

Kipling dramatized this conflict between the old and true against the new and trendy, in his poem “The Gods of the Copybook Headings.” The poem is even more applicable in 2014 than it was when Kipling wrote it 95 years ago. As we enter a new year, I have included it with this post and urge you to read it below:

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

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