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Life With Your Elders

Have you ever read Amyas Leigh? Amyas Leigh is an historical novel, written by Charles Kingsley, an English author. His object, or one of his objects, was to extol the old system of education, the system which trained such men as Walter Raleigh and Philip Sidney.

The system was this. When a boy had grown up to be fourteen or fifteen years old, he was sent away from home by his father to some old friend of his father, who took him into his train or company for whatever service or help he could render. And so, of a sudden, the boy found himself constantly in the company of men, to learn, as he could, what they were doing, and to become a man himself under their contagion and sympathy.

We have abandoned this system. We teach boys and girls as much from books as we can, and we give them all the fewer chances to learn from people or from life.

None the less do the boys and girls meet men and women. And I think it is well worth our while, in these papers, to see how much good and how much pleasure they can get from the companionship.

I reminded you, in the last chapter, of Jonas and Beechnut's wise advice about little children. Do you remember what Jonas told Rollo, when Rollo was annoyed because his father would not take him to ride? That instruction belongs to our present subject. Rollo was very fond of riding with his father and mother, but he thought he did not often get invited, and that, when he invited himself, he was often refused. He confided in Jonas on the subject. Jonas told him substantially two things: First, that his father would not ask him any the more often because he teased him for an invitation. The teazing was in itself wrong, and did not present him in an agreeable light to his father and mother, who wanted a pleasant companion, if they wanted any. This was the first thing. The second was that Rollo did not make himself agreeable when he did ride. He soon wanted water to drink. Or he wondered when they should get home. Or he complained because the sun shone in his eyes. He made what the inn-keeper called "a great row generally," and so when his father and mother took their next ride, if they wanted rest and quiet, they were very apt not to invite him. Rollo took the hint. The next time he had an invitation to ride, he remembered that he was the invited party, and bore himself accordingly. He did not "pitch in" in the conversation. He did not obtrude his own affairs. He answered when he was spoken to, listened when he was not spoken to, and found that he was well rewarded by attending to the things which interested his father and mother, and to the matters he was discussing with her. And so it came about that Rollo, by not offering himself again as captain of the party, became a frequent and a favorite companion.

Now in that experience of Rollo's there is involved a good deal of the philosophy of the intercourse between young people and their elders. Yes, I know what you are saying, Theodora and George, just as well as if I heard you. You are saying that you are sure you do not want to go among the old folks,--certainly you shall not go if you are not wanted. But I wish you to observe that sometimes you must go among them, whether you want to or not; and if you must, there are two things to be brought about,--first, that you get the utmost possible out of the occasion; and, second, that the older people do. So, if you please, we will not go into a huff about it, but look the matter in the face, and see if there is not some simple system which governs the whole.

Do you remember perhaps, George, the first time you found out what good reading there was in men's books,--that day when you had sprained your ankle, and found Mayne Reid palled a little bit,--when I brought you Lossing's Field-Book of the Revolution, as you sat in the wheel-chair, and you read away upon that for hours? Do you remember how, when you were getting well, you used to limp into my room, and I let you hook down books with the handle of your crutch, so that you read the English Parrys and Captain Back, and then got hold of my great Schoolcraft and Catlin, and finally improved your French a good deal, before you were well, on the thirty-nine volumes of Garnier's "Imaginary Voyages "? You remember that? So do I. That was your first experience in grown-up people's books,--books that are not written down to the supposed comprehension of children. Now there is an experience just like that open to each of you, Theodora and George, whenever you will choose to avail yourselves of it in the society of grown-up people, if you will only take that society simply and modestly, and behave like the sensible boy and girl that you really are.

Do not be tempted to talk among people who are your elders. Those horrible scrapes that Frank used to get into, such as Harry once got into, arose, like most scrapes in this world, from their want of ability to hold their tongues. Speak when you are spoken to, not till then, and then get off with as little talk as you can. After the second French revolution, my young friend Walter used to wish that there might be a third, so that he might fortunately be in the gallery of the revolutionary convention just when everything came to a dead lock; and he used to explain to us, as we sat on the parallel bars together at recess, how he would just spring over the front of the gallery, swing himself across to the canopy above the Speaker's seat, and slide down a column to the Tribune, there "where the orators speak, you know," and how he would take advantage of the surprise to address them in their own language; how he would say "FranASec.ais,--mes frA"res" (which means, Frenchmen,--brothers); and how, in such strains of burning eloquence, he would set all right so instantaneously that he would be proclaimed Dictator, placed in a carriage instantly, and drawn by an adoring and grateful people to the Palace of the Tuileries, to live there for the rest of his natural life. It was natural for Walter to think he could do all that if he got the chance. But I remember, in planning it out, he never got much beyond "FranASec.ais,--mes frA"res" and in forty years this summer, in which time four revolutions have taken place in France, Walter has never found the opportunity. It is seldom, very seldom, that in a mixed company it is necessary for a boy of sixteen, or a girl of fifteen, to get the others out of a difficulty. You may burn to interrupt, and to cry out "FranASec.ais,--mes frA"res" but you had better bite your tongue, and sit still. Do not explain that Rio Janeiro is the capital of Brazil. In a few minutes it will appear that they all knew it, though they did not mention it, and, by your waiting, you will save yourself horrible mortification.

Meanwhile you are learning things in the nicest way in the world. Do not you think that Amyas Leigh enjoyed what he learned of Guiana and the Orinoco River much more than you enjoy all you have ever learned of it? Yes. He learned it all by going there in the company of Walter Raleigh and sundry other such men. Suppose, George, that you could get the engineers, Mr. Burnell and Mr. Philipson, to take you with them when they run the new railroad line, this summer, through the passes of the Adirondack Mountains. Do you not think you shall enjoy that more even than reading Mr. Murray's book, far more than studying levelling and surveying in the first class at the High School. Get a chance to carry chain for them, if you can. No matter if you lose at school two medals, three diplomas, and four double promotions by your absence. Come round to me some afternoon, and I will tell you in an hour all the school-boys learned while you were away in the mountains; all, I mean, that you cannot make up in a well-used month after your return.

And please to remember this, all of you, though it seems impossible. Remember it as a fact, even if you cannot account for it, that though we all seem so old to you, just as if we were dropping into our graves, we do not, in practice, feel any older than we did when we were sixteen. True, we have seen the folly of a good many things which you want to see the folly of. We do not, therefore, in practice, sit on the rocks in the spray quite so near to the water as you do; and we go to bed a little earlier, even on moonlight nights. This is the reason that, when the whole merry party meet at breakfast, we are a little more apt to be in our places than--some young people I know. But, for all that, we do not feel any older than we did when we were sixteen. We enjoy building with blocks as well, and we can do it a great deal better; we like the "Arabian Nights" just as well as we ever did; and we can laugh at a good charade quite as loud as any of you can. So you need not take it on yourselves to suppose that because you are among "old people,"--by which you mean married people,--all is lost, and that the hours are to be stupid and forlorn. The best series of parties, lasting year in and out, that I have ever known, were in Worcester, Massachusetts, where old and young people associated together more commonly and frequently than in any other town I ever happened to live in, and where, for that very reason, society was on the best footing. I have seen a boy of twelve take a charming lady, three times his age, down Pearl Street on his sled. And I have ridden in a riding party to Paradise with twenty other horsemen and with twenty-one horsewomen, of whom the youngest, Theodora, was younger than you are, and quite as pretty, and the oldest very likely was a judge on the Supreme Bench. I will not say that she did not like to have one of the judges ride up and talk with her quite as well as if she had been left to Ferdinand Fitz-Mortimer. I will say that some of the Fitz-Mortimer tribe did not ride as well as they did ten years after.

Above all, dear children, work out in life the problem or the method by which you shall be a great deal with your father and your mother. There is no joy in life like the joy you can have with them. Fun or learning, sorrow or jollity, you can share it with them as with nobody beside. You are just like your father, Theodora, and you, George, I see your mother's face in you as you stand behind the bank counter, and I wonder what you have done with your curls. I say you are just like. I am tempted to say you are the same. And you can and you will draw in from them notions and knowledges, lights on life, and impulses and directions which no books will ever teach you, and which it is a shame to work out from long experience, when you can--as you can--have them as your birthright.

Edward Everett Hale

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