Only A Jackknife
When the lamented James A. Garfield was struggling to obtain an education,
he supported himself for several years by teaching. His first school was in
Muskingum County, Ohio, and the little frame house where he began his work
as a teacher, is still standing, while some of the boys and girls who
received instruction from him that term are yet alive to testify to his
faithfulness as a common-school teacher. He was quite a young man at that
time, in fact, he was still in his teens, and it must have been rather
embarrassing for him to attempt to teach young men and women, some of them
older than himself; but he was honest in his efforts to try to do his best,
and, as is always the case under such circumstances, he succeeded
One day, after repeatedly cautioning a little chap not to hack his desk
with the new Barlow in his possession, the young teacher transferred the
offending knife to his own pocket, quietly informing the culprit that it
should be returned at the close of the afternoon session.
During the afternoon two of the committeemen called to examine the school,
and young Garfield was so interested in the special recitations conducted
that he let the boy go home in the evening without even mentioning the
knife. The subject did not recur to him again until after supper, and
perhaps would not have been recalled to him then had not he chanced to put
his hand into his pocket for a pencil.
"Look there!" he exclaimed, holding up the knife. "I took it from Sandy
Williams, with the promise that it should be returned in the evening, and I
have let him go home without it. I must carry it to him at once."
"Never mind, man! Let it stand till morning," urged Mrs. Ross, the motherly
woman with whom he boarded.
"I cannot do that," replied Garfield; "the little fellow will think I am a
"No danger of that, James," insisted the well-meaning woman. "He will know
that you forgot it, and all will be well in the morning."
"But, you see, I promised, Mrs. Ross, and a promise is always binding. I
must go tonight, and carry it to him," urged the young man, drawing on his
"It is all of two miles to his father's, and just look how dark it is, and
raining, too," said the woman, opening the door to convince her boarder
that things were as bad as she had represented them.
"I am young and strong, and can make my way quite easily," insisted
Garfield. "It is always better to right a wrong as soon as you discover it,
and I would rather walk the four miles in the mud and rain than disappoint
one of my scholars. Sometimes example is more powerful than precept, and if
I am not careful to live an honest life before my pupils, they will not
give much heed to what I say on such subjects. There is no rule like the
golden rule, but he who teaches it must also live it, if he expects others
to follow his teaching."
Mrs. Ross said no more, and James went on, as he had proposed; and before
the little boy went to sleep, he was happy again in the possession of his
treasure, over which he had been lamenting all the evening. The young
teacher declined the hospitality of the family for the night, and walked
back in the darkness to his boarding-house, and, as he afterward said, felt
all the better for standing up to his principles.—Selected.