The New England Primer 99
swered the questions put to him, and stepped back. To be " told " — that is, to be prompted or corrected by the minister — was a dire disgrace, and brought one's ability and scholarship into ill repute. Many were the knees that smote together, and many were the beating hearts and shaky voices among the little people in those two conspicuous lines.
When the "second division of the Catechism was recited, the smaller children had dropped out, and, on the third Sunday, reserved for the long and knotty answers in the last portion of the Catechism, only a meagre squad of the oldest children lined up in front of the pulpit.
The Catechism was treated scarcely less seriously in the schools than it was in the churches, and the teachers drilled their pupils in it as thoroughly as they did in spelling or any other lesson. With the primer so constantly used in church, school, and home, the people could not help but be saturated with its doctrines, and no book save the Bible did more to form New England character. In short, this humble little primer was a chief tool for making sure that the children, or, as Jonathan Edwards called them, " young vipers and infinitely more hateful than vipers to God," should grow up into sober and Christian men and women.