Part 1 out of 3
The American Child
by Elizabeth Mccracken
With Illustrations from photographs by Alice Austin
[Illustration: COMPANIONS AND FRIENDS]
to My Father And Mother
The purpose of this preface is that of every preface--to say "thank
you" to the persons who have helped in the making of the book.
I would render thanks first of all to the Editors of the "Outlook" for
permission to reprint the chapters of the book which appeared as
articles in the monthly magazine numbers of their publication.
I return thanks also to Miss Rosamond F. Rothery, Miss Sara Cone Bryant,
Miss Agnes F. Perkins, and Mr. Ferris Greenslet. Without the help and
encouragement of all of these, the book never would have been written.
Finally, I wish to say an additional word of thanks to my physician, Dr.
John E. Stillwell. Had it not been for his consummate skill and untiring
care after an accident, which, four years ago, made me a year-long
hospital patient, I should never have lived to write anything.
CAMBRIDGE, January, 1913
I. THE CHILD AT HOME
II. THE CHILD AT PLAY
III. THE COUNTRY CHILD
IV. THE CHILD IN SCHOOL
V. THE CHILD IN THE LIBRARY
VI. THE CHILD IN CHURCH
COMPANIONS AND FRIENDS
THREE SMALL GIRLS
THE BOY OF THE HOUSE
"DID YOU PLAY IT THIS WAY?"
THE DEAR DELIGHTS OF PLAYING ALONE
"THE CHILDREN--THEY ARE SUCH DEARS"
A SMALL COUNTRY BOY
ARRAYED IN SPOTLESS WHITE
THEY PAINT PICTURES AS A REGULAR PART OF THEIR SCHOOL ROUTINE
THEY DO SO MANY THINGS!
THEY HAVE SO MANY THINGS!
THE STORY HOUR IN THE CHILDREN'S ROOM
THE CHILDREN'S EDITION
IN THE INFANT CLASS
"DO YOU LIKE MY NEW HYMN?"
CHILDREN GO TO CHURCH
One day several years ago, when Mr. Lowes Dickinson's statement that he
had found no conversation and--worse still--no conversationalists in
America was fresh in our outraged minds, I happened to meet an English
woman who had spent approximately the same amount of time in our country
as had Mr. Lowes Dickinson. "What has been your experience?" I anxiously
asked her. "Is it true that we only 'talk'? Can it really be that we
"Dear me, no!" she exclaimed with gratifying fervor. "You are the most
delightful conversationalists in the world, on your own subject--"
"Our own subject?" I echoed.
"Certainly," she returned; "your own subject, the national subject,--the
child, the American child. It is possible to 'converse' with any
American on that subject; every one of you has something to say on it;
and every one of you will listen eagerly to what any other person says
on it. You modify the opinions of your hearers by what you say; and you
actually allow your own opinions to be modified by what you hear said.
If that is conversation, without a doubt you have it in America, and
have it in as perfect a state as conversation ever was had anywhere. But
you have it only on that subject. I wonder why," she went on, half-
musingly, before I could make an attempt to persuade her to qualify her
rather sweeping assertion. "It may be because you do so much for
children, in America. They are always on your mind; they are hardly ever
out of your sight. You are forever either doing something for them, or
planning to do something for them. No wonder the child is your one
subject of conversation. You do so _very_ much for children in America,"
Few of us will agree with the English woman that the child, the American
child, is the only subject upon which we converse. Certainly, though, it
is a favorite subject; it may even not inaptly be called our national
subject. Whatever our various views concerning this may chance to be,
however, it is likely that we are all in entire agreement with regard to
the other matter touched upon by the English woman,--the pervasiveness
of American children. Is it not true that we keep them continually in
mind; that we seldom let them go quite out of sight; that we are always
doing, or planning to do, something for them? What is it that we would
do? And why is it that we try so unceasingly to do it?
It seems to me that we desire with a great desire to make the boys and
girls do; that all of the "_very_ much" that we do for them is done in
order to teach them just that--to do. It is a large and many-sided and
varicolored desire, and to follow its leadings is an arduous labor; but
is there one of us who knows a child well who has not this desire, and
who does not cheerfully perform that labor? Having decided in so far as
we are able what were good to do, we try, not only to do it ourselves,
in our grown-up way, but so to train the children that they, too, may do
it, in their childish way. The various means that we find most helpful
to the end of our own doing we secure for the children,--adapting them,
simplifying them, and even re-shaping them, that the boys and girls may
use them to the full.
There is, of course, a certain impersonal quality in a great deal of
what we, in America, do for children. It is not based so much on
friendship for an individual child as on a sense of responsibility for
the well-being of all childhood, especially all childhood in our own
country. But most of what we do, after all, we do for the boys and girls
whom we know and love; and we do it because they are our friends, and we
wish them to share in the good things of our lives,--our work and our
play. To what amazing lengths we sometimes go in this "doing for" the
children of our circles!
One Saturday afternoon, only a few weeks ago, I saw at the annual
exhibit of the State Board of Health, a man, one of my neighbors, with
his little eight-year old boy. The exhibit consisted of the customary
display of charts and photographs, showing the nature of the year's work
in relation to the milk supply, the water supply, the housing of the
poor, and the prevention of contagious diseases. My neighbor is not a
specialist in any one of these matters; his knowledge is merely that of
an average good citizen. He went from one subject to the other, studying
them. His boy followed close beside him, looking where his father
looked,--if with a lesser interest at the charts, with as great an
intentness at the photographs. As they made their way about the room
given over to the exhibit, they talked, the boy asking questions, the
father endeavoring to answer them.
The small boy caught sight of me as I stood before one of the charts
relating to the prevention of contagious diseases, and ran across the
room to me. "What are _you_ looking at?" he said. "That! It shows how
many people were vaccinated, doesn't it? Come over here and see the
pictures of the calves the doctors get the stuff to vaccinate with
"Isn't this an odd place for a little boy on a Saturday afternoon?" I
remarked to my neighbor, a little later, when the boy had roamed to the
other side of the room, out of hearing.
"Not at all!" asserted the child's father. "He was inquiring the other
day why he had been vaccinated, why all the children at school had been
vaccinated. Just before that, he had asked where the water in the tap
came from. This is just the place for him right now! It isn't odd at all
for him to be here on a Saturday afternoon. It is much odder for _me_"
he continued with a smile. "I'd naturally be playing golf! But when
children begin to ask questions, one has to do something about answering
them; and coming here seemed to be the best way of answering these
newest questions of my boy's. I want him to learn about the connection
of the state with these things; so he will be ready to do his part in
them, when he gets to the 'voting age.'"
"But can he understand, yet?" I ventured.
"More than if he hadn't seen all this, and heard about what it means,"
my neighbor replied.
It is not unnatural, when a child asks questions so great and so far-
reaching as those my neighbor's small boy had put to him, that we should
"do something about answering them,"--something as vivid as may be
within our power. But, even when the queries are of a minor character,
we still bestir ourselves until they are adequately answered.
"Mamma," I heard a little girl inquire recently, as she fingered a scrap
of pink gingham of which her mother was making "rompers" for the baby of
the family, "why are the threads of this cloth pink when you unravel it
one way, and white when you unravel it the other?"
The mother was busy; but she laid aside her sewing and explained to the
child about the warp and the woof in weaving.
"I don't _quite_ see why _that_ makes the threads pink one way and white
the other," the little girl said, perplexedly, when the explanation was
"When you go to kindergarten, you will," I suggested.
"But I want to know now," the child demurred.
The next day I got for the little girl at a "kindergarten supply"
establishment a box of the paper woofs and warps, so well-known to
kindergarten pupils. Not more than three or four days elapsed before I
took them to the child; but I found that her busy mother had already
provided her with some; pink and white, moreover, among other colors;
and had taught the little girl how to weave with them.
"She understands, _now_, why the threads of pink gingham are pink one
way and white the other!" the mother observed.
"Why did you go to such trouble to teach her?" I asked with some
"Well," the mother returned, "she will have to buy gingham some time.
She will be a grown-up 'woman who spends' some day; and she will do the
spending the better for knowing just what she is buying,--what it is
made of, and how it is made!"
It is no new thing for fathers and mothers to think more of the future
than of the present in their dealings with their boys and girls. Parents
of all times and in all countries have done this. It seems to me,
however, that American fathers and mothers of to-day, unlike those of
any other era or nation, think, in training their children, of what one
might designate as a most minutely detailed future. The mother of whom I
have been telling wished to teach her little girl not only how to buy,
but how to buy gingham; and the father desired his small boy to learn
not alone that his state had a board of health, but that he might hope
to become a member of a particular department of it.
We occasionally hear elderly persons exclaim that children of the
present day are taught a great many things that did not enter into the
education of their grandparents, or even of their parents. But, on
investigation, we scarcely find that this is the case. What we discover
is that the children of to-day are taught, not new lessons, but the old
lessons by a new method. Sewing, for example: little girls no longer
make samplers, working on them the letters of the alphabet in "cross-
stitch"; they learn to do cross-stitch letters, only they learn not by
working the entire alphabet on a square of linen merely available to
"learn on," but by working the initials of a mother or an aunt on a
"guest towel," which later serves as a Christmas or a birthday gift of
the most satisfactory kind! Perhaps one of the best things we do for the
little girls of our families is to teach them to take their first
stitches to some definite end. Certainly we do it with as conscientious
a care as ever watched over the stitches of the little girls of old as
they made the faded samplers we cherish so affectionately.
The brothers of these little girls learned carpentry, when they were old
enough to handle tools with safety. The boys of to-day also learn it;
some of them begin long before they can handle any tools with safety,
and when they can handle no tool at all except a hammer. As soon as they
wish to drive nails, they are allowed to drive them, and taught to drive
them to some purpose. I happened not a great while ago to pass the day
at the summer camp of a friend of mine who is the mother of a small boy,
aged five. My friend's husband was constructing a rustic bench.
The little boy watched for a time; then, "Daddy, _I_ want to put in
nails," he said.
"All right," replied his father; "you may. Just wait a minute and I'll
let you have the hammer and the nails. Your mother wants some nails in
the kitchen to hang the tin things on. If she will show you where she
wants them, I'll show you how to put them in."
This was done, with much gayety on the part of us all. When the small
boy, tutored by his father, had driven in all the required nails, he
lifted a triumphant face to his mother. "There they are!" he exclaimed.
"Now let's hang the tin things on them, and see how they look!"
The boy's father did not finish the rustic bench that day. When a
neighboring camper, who stopped in to call toward the end of the
afternoon, expressed surprise at his apparent dilatoriness, and asked
for an explanation, the father simply said, "I did mean to finish it to-
day, but I had to do something for my boy instead."
One of the things we grown-ups do for children that has been rather
severely criticized is the lavishing upon them of toys,--intricate and
costly toys. "What, as a child, I used to _pretend_ the toys I had,
were, the toys my children have now, _are_!" an acquaintance of mine was
saying to me recently. "For instance," she went on, "I had a box with a
hole in one end of it; I used to pretend that it was a camera, and
pretend to take pictures with it! I cannot imagine my children doing
that! They have real cameras and take real pictures."
The camera would seem to be typical of the toys we give to the children
of to-day; they can do something with it,--something real.
The dearest treasure of my childhood was a tiny gold locket, shaped, and
even engraved, like a watch. Not long ago I was showing it to a little
girl who lives in New York. "I used to pretend it _was_ a watch," I
said; "I used to pretend telling the time by it."
She gazed at it with interested eyes. "It is very nice," she observed
politely; "but wouldn't you have liked to have a _real_ watch? _I_ have
one; and I _really_ tell the time by it."
"But you cannot pretend with it!" I found myself saying.
"Oh, yes, I can," the little girl exclaimed in surprise; "and I do! I
hang it on the cupola of my dolls' house and pretend that it is the
clock in the Metropolitan Tower!"
The alarmists warn us that what we do for the children in the direction
of costly and complicated toys may, even while helping them do something
for themselves, mar their priceless simplicity. Need we fear this? Is it
not likely that the "real" watches which we give them that they may
"really" tell time, will be used, also, for more than one of the other
simple purposes of childhood?
The English woman said that we Americans did so much, so _very_ much,
for the children of our nation. There have been other foreigners who
asserted that we did _too_ much. Indubitably, we do a great deal. But,
since we do it all that the children may learn to do, and, through
doing, to be, can we ever possibly do too much? "It is possible to
converse with any American on the American child," the English woman
said. Certainly every American has something to say on that subject,
because every American is trying to do something for some American
child, or group of children, to do much, _very_ much.
THE CHILD AT HOME
In one of the letters of Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse, to her mother,
Queen Victoria, she writes: "I try to give my children in their home
what I had in my childhood's home. As well as I am able, I copy what you
There is something essentially British in this point of view. The
English mother, whatever her rank, tries to give her children in their
home what she had in her childhood's home; as well as she is able, she
copies what her mother did. The conditions of her life may be entirely
different from those of her mother, her children may be unlike herself
in disposition; yet she still holds to tradition in regard to their
upbringing; she tries to make their home a reproduction of her mother's
The American mother, whatever her station, does the exact opposite--she
attempts to bestow upon her children what she did not possess; and she
makes an effort to imitate as little as possible what her mother did.
She desires her children to have that which she did not have, and for
which she longed; or that which she now thinks so much better a
possession than anything she did have. Her ambition is to train her
children, not after her mother's way, but in accordance with "the most
approved modern method." This method is apt, on analysis, to turn out to
be merely the reverse side of her mother's procedure.
I have an acquaintance, the mother of a plump, jolly little tomboy of a
girl; which child my acquaintance dresses in dainty embroideries and
laces, delicately colored ribbons, velvet cloaks, and feathered hats.
These garments are not "becoming" to the little girl, and they are a
distinct hindrance to her hoydenish activities. They are not what she
ought to have, and, moreover, they are not what she wants.
"I wish I had a middy blouse, and some bloomers, and an aviation cap,
and a sweater, and a Peter Thompson coat!" I heard her say recently to
her mother: "the other children have them."
"Children are never satisfied!" her mother exclaimed to me later, when
we were alone. "I spend so much time and money seeing that she has nice
clothes; and you hear what she thinks of them!"
"But, for ordinary wear, for play, wouldn't the things she wants be more
comfortable?" I ventured. "You dress her so beautifully!" I added.
"Well," said my acquaintance in a gratified tone, "I am glad you think
so. _I_ had _no_ very pretty clothes when I was a child; and I always
longed for them. My mother didn't believe in finery for children; and
she dressed us very plainly indeed. I want my little girl to look as I
used to wish _I_ might look!"
"But she doesn't care how she looks--" I began.
"I know," the child's mother sighed. "I can _see_ how _her_ little girls
will be dressed!"
Can we not all see just that? And doubtless the little girls of this
beruffled, befurbelowed tomboy--dressed in middy blouses, and bloomers,
and aviation caps, and sweaters, and Peter Thompson coats, or their
future equivalents--will wish they had garments of a totally different
kind; and _she_ will be exclaiming, "Children are never satisfied!"
If this principle on the part of mothers in America in providing for
their children were confined to such superficialities as their clothing,
no appreciable harm--or good--would come of it. But such is not the
case; it extends to the uttermost parts of the child's home life.
Only the other day I happened to call upon a friend of mine during the
hour set aside for her little girl's piano lesson. The child was
tearfully and rebelliously playing a "piece." Her teacher, a musician of
unusual ability, guided her stumbling fingers with conscientious
patience and care. A child of the least musical talent would surely have
responded in some measure to such excellent instruction. My friend's
little girl did not. When the lesson was finished, she slipped from the
piano stool with a sigh of intense relief.
She started to run out of doors; but her mother detained her. "You may
go to your room for an hour," she said, gently but gravely, "and stay
there all alone. That will help you to remember to try harder tomorrow
to have a good music lesson." And the child, more tearful, more
rebellious than before, crept away to her room.
"When I was her age I didn't like the work involved in taking music
lessons any better than she does," my friend said. "So my mother didn't
insist upon my taking them. I have regretted it all my life. I love
music; I always loved it--I loved it even when I hated practising and
music lessons. I wish my mother had made me keep at it, no matter how
much I objected! Well, I shall do it with _my_ daughter; she'll thank me
for it some day."
I am not so sure that her daughter will. Her music-teacher agrees with
me. "The child has no talent whatever," she told me. "It is a waste of
time for her to take piano lessons. Her mother now--_she_ has a real
gift for it! I often wish _she_ would take the lessons!"
American mothers are no more prone to give their children what they
themselves did not have than are American fathers. The man who is most
eager that his son should have a college education is not the man who
has two or three academic degrees, but the man who never went to college
at all. The father whose boys are allowed to be irregular in their
church attendance is the father who, as a boy, was compelled to go to
church, rain or shine, twice on every Sunday.
In the more intimate life of the family the same principle rules. The
parents try to give to the children ideals that were not given to them;
they attempt to inculcate in the children habits that were not
inculcated in themselves.
I know a family in which are three small girls, between whom there is
very little difference in age. These children all enjoy coming to take
tea with me. For convenience, I should naturally invite them all on the
Both their father and mother, however, have requested me not to do this.
"Do ask them one at a time on different days," they said.
"Of course I will," I assented. "But--why?" I could not forbear
"When I was a child," the mother of the three little girls explained, "I
was never allowed to accept an invitation unless my younger sister was
invited, too. I was fond of my sister; but I used to long to go
somewhere sometime by myself! My husband had the same experience--his
brother always had to be invited when he was, or he couldn't go. Our
children shall not be so circumscribed!"
There is not much danger for them, certainly, in that direction. Yet I
rather think they would enjoy doing more things together. One day, not a
great while ago, I chanced to meet all three of them near a tearoom. I
asked them--perforce all of them--to go in with me and partake of ice
cream. As we sat around the table, the oldest of the three glanced at
the other two with a friendly smile. "It is nice--all of us having ice
cream with you at the same time," she remarked, and her younger sisters
To be sure, they are nearer the same age and they are more alike in
their tastes than their mother and her sister, or their father and his
brother. Perhaps their parents needed to take their pleasures singly;
they seem able quite happily to take theirs in company.
I have another friend, who was brought up in a household in which, as
she says, "individuality" was the keynote. In her own home the keynote
is "the family." She encourages her children to "do things together."
Furthermore, she and her husband habitually participate in their
children's occupations to a greater degree than any other parents I have
[Illustration: THREE SMALL GIRLS]
Their friends usually entertain these children "as a family"; but not
long ago, happening to have only two tickets to a concert, I asked one,
and just one, of the little girls of this household to attend it with
me. She accepted eagerly. During an intermission she looked up at me and
said, confidingly, "It is nice sometimes to do things not 'as a family,'
but just as one's self!"
Then, for the first time, it occurred to me that she was the "odd one"
of her family. All its pleasures, all its interests, were not equally
hers. She needed sometimes to do things as herself.
In matters of discipline, too, we find the same theory at work. Parents
who were severely punished as children do not punish their children at
all; and the most austere of parents are those who, when children, were
"spoiled." Almost regardless of the natures of their children, parents
deal with them, so far as discipline is concerned, as they themselves
were not dealt with.
This implies no lack of love, no lack of respect, for the older
generation. On the contrary, it is the sign and symbol of a love, a
respect, so great as to permit of divergences of opinion and procedure,
in spite of differences of age.
"I am not going to bring up the baby in the way I was brought up, mamma,
darling," I once heard a mother of a month-old baby (her first child)
say to the baby's grandmother.
"Aren't you, dear?" replied the older lady, with a smile. "Why not?"
"Oh," returned the daughter, "I want her to be better than I am. I think
if you'd brought me up conversely from the way you did, I'd have been a
much more worth-while person."
She spoke very solemnly, but her mother only laughed, and then fondly
kissed her daughter and her granddaughter. "That is what I said to _my_
mother when _you_ were a month old!" she said whimsically.
Children in American homes, it might be supposed, would be affected by
such diversity in the theories of their parents and their grandparents
concerning their rearing. They might naturally be expected to "take
sides" with the one or the other; or, at any rate, to be puzzled or
disturbed by the principle of "contrariwiseness" governing their lives.
From their earliest years they are aware of it. The small girl very soon
learns that the real reason why she finds a gold bracelet in her
Christmas stocking is that mother "always wanted one, but grandma did
not approve of jewelry for children." The little boy quickly discovers
that his dog sleeps on the foot of his bed mainly because "father's dog
was never allowed even to come into the house. Grandpa was a doctor, and
thought dogs were not clean."
This knowledge, so soon acquired, would seem to be a menace to family
unity; but it is not--even in homes in which the three generations are
living together. The children know what their grandparents wished for
their parents; they know what their parents wish for them; but, most of
all and best of all, they know what they wish for themselves. It is not
what their parents had, nor what their parents try to give them; it is
"what other children have."
Perhaps all children are conventional; certainly American children are.
They wish to have what the other children of their acquaintance have,
they wish to do what those other children do. It is not because mother
wanted a bracelet, and never had it, that the little girl would have a
bracelet; it is because "the other girls have bracelets." Not on account
of the rules that forbade father's dog the house is the small boy happy
in the nightly companionship of his dog; he takes the dog to bed with
him for the reason that "the other boys' dogs sleep with them."
Even unto honors, if they must carry them alone, children in America
would rather not be born. A little girl who lives in my neighborhood
came home from school in tears one day not long ago. Her father is a
celebrated writer. The school-teacher, happening to select one of his
stories to read aloud to the class, mentioned the fact that the author
of the story was the father of my small friend.
"But why are you crying about it, sweetheart?" her father asked. "Do you
think it's such a bad story?"
"Oh, no," the little girl answered; "it is a good enough story. But none
of the other children's fathers write stories! Why do _you_, daddy? It's
It may be that all children, whatever their nationalities, are like this
little girl. We, in America, have a fuller opportunity to become
intimately acquainted with the minds of children than have the people of
any other nation of the earth. For more completely than any other people
do American fathers and mothers make friends and companions of their
children, asking from them, first, love; then, trust; and, last of all,
the deference due them as "elders." Any child may feel as did my small
neighbor about a "peculiar" father; only a child who had been his
comrade as well as his child would so freely have voiced her feeling.
We all remember the little boy in Stevenson's poem, "My Treasures,"
whose dearest treasure, a chisel, was dearest because "very few children
possess such a thing."
Had he been an American child, that chisel would not have been a
"treasure" at all, unless all of the children possessed such a thing.
Not only do the children of our Nation want what the other children of
their circle have when they can use it; they want it even when they
cannot use it. I have a little girl friend who, owing to an accident in
her infancy, is slightly lame. Fortunately, she is not obliged to depend
upon crutches; but she cannot run about, and she walks with a
pathetically halting step.
One autumn this child came to her mother and said: "Mamma, I'd like to
go to dancing-school."
"But, my dearest, I'm afraid--I don't believe--you could learn to dance
--very well," her mother faltered.
"Oh, mamma, _I_ couldn't learn to dance _at all_!" the little girl
exclaimed, as if surprised that her mother did not fully realize this
"Then, dearest, why do you want to go to dancing-school?" her mother
"The other girls in my class at school are all going," the child said.
Her mother was silent; and the little girl came closer and lifted
pleading eyes to her face. "_Please_ let me go!" she begged. "The others
are all going," she repeated.
"I could not bear to refuse her," the mother wrote to me later. "I let
her go. I feared that it would only make her feel her lameness the more
keenly and be a source of distress to her. But it isn't; she enjoys it.
She cannot even try to learn to dance; but she takes pleasure in being
present and watching the others, to say nothing of wearing a 'dancing-
school dress,' as they do. This morning she said to her father: 'I can't
dance, Papa; but I can talk about it. I learn how at dancing-school. Oh,
I love dancing-school!'"
Her particular accomplishment maybe of minute value in itself; but is
not her content in it a priceless good? If she can continue to enjoy
learning only to talk about the pleasures her lameness will not permit
her otherwise to share, her dancing-school lessons will have taught her
better things than they taught "the other children," who could dance.
That mother was her little girl's confidential friend as well as her
mother. The child, quite unreservedly, told her what she wanted and why
she wanted it. It was no weak indulgence of a child's whim, but a
genuine respect for another person's rights as an individual--even
though that individual was merely a little child--that led that mother
to allow her daughter to have what she wanted. May not some subtle sense
of this have been the basis of the child's happiness in the fulfillment
of her desire? She _wanted_ to go to dancing-school because the other
children were going; but may she not have _liked_ going because she felt
that her mother understood and sympathized with her desire to go?
A Frenchwoman to whom I once said that American parents treat their
children in many ways as though they were their contemporaries remarked,
"But does that not make the children old before their time?"
So far from this, it seems, on the contrary, to keep the parents young
after their time. It has been truly said that we have in America fewer
and fewer grandmothers who are "sweet old ladies," and more and more who
are "charming elderly women." We hear less and less about the "older"
and the "younger" generations; increasingly we merge two, and even
three, generations into one.
Only yesterday, calling upon a new acquaintance, I heard the four-year-
old boy of the house, mentioning his father, refer to him as "Henry."
His grandmother smiled, and his mother said, casually: "When you speak
_of_ father, dear, it would be better to say, 'my father,' so people
will be sure to know whom you mean. You may have noticed that grandma
always says, 'my son,' and I always say 'my husband,' when _we_ speak of
"Does he call his father by his Christian name?" I could not resist
questioning, when the little boy had left the room.
"Sometimes," replied the child's mother.
"He hears so many persons do it, he can't see why he shouldn't. And
there really _is_ no reason. Soon enough he will find out that it isn't
customary and stop doing it."
This is a far cry from the days when children were taught to address
their parents as "honored sir" and "respected madam." But, it seems to
me, the parents are as much honored and respected now as then; and--more
important still--both they and the children are, if not dearer, yet
nearer one another.
In small as well as in large matters they slip into their parents'
places--neither encouraged nor discouraged, but simply accepted.
Companions and friends, they behave as such, and are treated in a
companionable and friendly manner.
The other afternoon I dropped in at tea-time for a glimpse of an old
Her little girl came into the room in the wake of the tea-tray. "Let
_me_ pour the tea," she said, eagerly.
[Illustration: THE BOY OF THE HOUSE]
"Very well," her mother acquiesced. "Be careful not to fill the cups too
full, so that they overflow into the saucers; and do not forget that the
tea is _hot_" she supplemented.
The little girl had never poured the tea before, but her mother neither
watched her nor gave her any further directions. The child devoted
herself to her pleasant task. With entire ease and unconsciousness she
filled the cups, and made the usual inquiries as to "one lump, or two?"
and "cream or lemon?"
"Isn't she rather young to pour the tea?" I suggested, when we were
"I don't see why," my friend said. "There isn't any 'age limit' about
pouring tea. She does it for her dolls in the nursery; she might just as
well do it for us here. Of course it is hot; but she can be careful."
There are few things in regard to the doing or the saying or the
thinking of which American parents apprehend any "age limit." Their
children are not "tender juveniles." They do not have a detached life of
their own which the parents "share," nor do the parents have a detached
life of their own which the children "share." There is the common life
of the home, to which all, parents and children, and often grandparents
too, contribute, and in which they all "share."
This is the secret of that genuine satisfaction that so many of us
grown-ups in America find in the society of children, whether they are
members of our own families or are the children of our friends and
A short time ago I had occasion to invite to Sunday dinner a little boy
friend of mine who is nine years old. Lest he _might_ feel his youth in
a household which no longer contains any nine-year-olds, I invited to
"meet him" two other boys, playmates of his, of about the same age.
There chanced also to be present a friend, a professor in a woman's
college, into whose daily life very seldom strays a boy, especially one
nine years old.
"What interesting things have you been doing lately?" she observed to
the boy beside her in the pause which followed our settling of ourselves
at the table.
"I have been seeing 'The Blue Bird,'" he at once answered. "Have _you_
seen it?" he next asked.
No sooner had she replied than he turned to me. "I suppose, of course,
_you've_ seen it," he said.
"Not yet," I told him; "but I have read it--"
"Oh, so have I!" exclaimed one of the other boys; "and I've seen it,
too. There is one act in the play that isn't in the book--'The Land of
Happiness' it is. My mother says she doesn't think Mr. Maeterlinck could
have written it; it is so different from the rest of the play."
Those present, old and young, who had seen "The Blue Bird" debated this
possibility at some length.
Then the boy who had introduced it said to me: "I wonder, when you see
it, whether _you'll_ think Mr. Maeterlinck wrote 'The Land of Happiness'
act, or not."
"I haven't seen 'The Blue Bird,'" the third boy remarked, "but I've seen
the Coronation pictures." Whereupon we fell to discussing moving-picture
During the progress of that dinner we considered many other subjects,
lighting upon them casually; touching upon them lightly; and--most
significant of all--discoursing upon them as familiars and equals. None
of us who were grown-up "talked down" to the boys, and certainly none of
the boys "talked up" to us. Each one of them at home was a "dear
partner" of every other member of the family, younger and older, larger
and smaller. Inevitably, each one when away from home became quite
spontaneously an equal shareholder in whatever was to be possessed at
A day or two after the Sunday of that dinner I met one of my boy guests
on the street. "I've seen 'The Blue Bird,'" I said to him; "and I'm
inclined to think that, if Mr. Maeterlinck did write the act 'The Land
of Happiness,' he wrote it long after he had written the rest of the
play. I think perhaps that is why it is so different from the other
"Why, I never thought of that!" the boy cried, with absolute
unaffectedness. He appeared to consider it for a moment, and then he
said: "I'll tell my mother; she'll be interested."
Foreign visitors of distinction not infrequently have accused American
children of being "pert," or "lacking in reverence," or "sophisticated."
Those of us who are better acquainted with the children of our own
Nation cannot concur in any of these accusations. Unhappily, there are
children in America, as there are children in every land, who _are_
pert, and lacking in reverence, and sophisticated; but they are in the
small minority, and they are not the children to whom foreigners refer
when they make their sweeping arraignments.
The most gently reared, the most carefully nurtured, of our children are
those usually seen by distinguished foreign visitors; for such
foreigners are apt to be guests of the families to which these children
belong. The spirit of frank _camaraderie_ displayed by the children they
mistake for "pertness"; the trustful freedom of their attitude toward
their elders they interpret as "lack of reverence"; and their eager
interest in subjects ostensibly beyond their years they misread as
It must be admitted that American small boys have not the quaint
courtliness of French small boys; that American little girls are without
the pretty shyness of English little girls. We are compelled to grant
that in America between the nursery and the drawing-room there is no
great gulf fixed. This condition of things has its real disadvantages
and trials; but has it not also its ideal advantages and blessings?
Cooeperative living together, in spite of individual differences, is one
of these advantages; tender intimacy between persons of varying ages is
one of these blessings.
A German woman on her first visit to America said to me, as we talked
about children, that, with our National habit of treating them as what
we Americans call "chums," she wondered how parents kept any authority
over them, and especially maintained any government _of_ them, and _for_
them, without letting it lapse into a government _by_ them.
"I should think that the commandment 'Children, obey your parents' might
be in danger of being overlooked or thrust aside," she said, "in a
country in which children and parents are 'chums,' as Americans say."
That ancient commandment would seem to be too toweringly large to be
overlooked, too firmly embedded in the world to be thrust aside. It is a
very Rock of Gibraltar of a commandment.
American parents do not relinquish their authority over their children.
As for government--like other wise parents, they aim to help it to
develop, as soon as it properly can, from a government of and for their
children into a government by them. Self-government is the lesson of
lessons they most earnestly desire to teach their children.
Methods of teaching it differ. Indeed, as to methods of teaching their
children anything, American fathers and mothers have no fixed standard,
no homogeneous ideal. More likely than not they follow in this important
matter their custom in matters of lesser import--of employing a method
directly opposed to the method of their own parents, and employing it
simply because it is directly opposed. This is but too apt to be their
interpretation of the phrase "modernity in child nurture." But the
children learn the lesson. They learn the other great and fundamental
lessons of life, too, and learn them well, from these American fathers
and mothers who are so friendly and companionable and sympathetic with
Why should they not? There is no antagonism between love and law.
Parents are in a position of authority over their children; no risk of
the strength of that position is involved in a friendship between
parents and children anywhere. It is not remarkable that American
parents should retain their authority over their children. What is
noteworthy is that their children, less than any other children of the
civilized world, rebel against it or chafe under it: they perceive so
soon that their parents are governing them only because they are not
wise enough to govern themselves; they realize so early that government,
by some person or persons, is the estate in common of us all!
One day last summer at the seashore I saw a tiny boy, starting from the
bath-house of his family, laboriously drag a rather large piece of
driftwood along the beach. Finally he carefully deposited it in the sand
at a considerable distance from the bath-house.
"Why did you bring that big piece of wood all the way up here?" I
inquired as he passed me.
"My father told me to," the child replied.
"Why?" I found myself asking.
"Because I got it here; and it is against the law of this town to take
anything from this beach, except shells. Did you know that? I didn't; my
father just 'splained it to me."
American fathers and mothers explain so many things to their children!
And American children explain quite as great a number of things to their
parents. They can; because they are not only friends, but familiar
friends. We have all read Continental autobiographies, of which the
chapters under the general title "Early Years" contained records of
fears based upon images implanted in the mind and flourishing there--
images arising from some childish misapprehension or misinterpretation
of some ordinary and perfectly explainable circumstance. "I was afraid
to pass a closed closet alone after dark," one of these says. "I had
heard of 'skeletons in closets'; I knew there were none in our closets
in the daytime, but I couldn't be sure that they did not come to sleep
in them at night; and I was too shy to inquire of my parents. What
terrors I suffered! I was half-grown before I understood what a
'skeleton in a closet' was."
An American child would have discovered what one was within five minutes
after hearing it first mentioned, provided he had the slightest interest
in knowing. No American child is too shy to inquire of his parents
concerning anything he may wish to know. Shyness is a veil children wear
before strangers; in the company of their intimates they lay it aside--
and forget it. In the autobiographies of Americans we shall not find
many accounts of childish terrors arising from any reserve in the
direction of asking questions. In American homes there are no closets
whose doors children are afraid to pass, or to open, even after dark.
"American children are all so different!" an Englishman complained to me
not long ago; "as different as their several homes. One can make no
statement about them that is conclusive."
But can one not? To be sure, they do vary, and their homes vary too; but
in one great, significant, fundamental particular they are all alike. In
American homes the parents not only love their children, and the
children their parents; their "way of loving" is such that one may say
of them, "Their souls do bear an equal yoke of love." They and their
parents are "chums."
THE CHILD AT PLAY
Not long ago I happened to receive in the same mail three books on home
games, written by three different American authors, and issued by three
separate publishing-houses. In most respects the books were dissimilar;
but in one interesting particular they were all alike: the games in them
were so designed that, though children alone could play them well,
children and grown-ups together could play them better. No one of the
several authors suggested that he had any such theory in mind when
preparing his book; each one simply took it for granted that his "home
games" would be played by the entire household. Would not any of us in
America, writing a book of this description, proceed from precisely the
We all recollect the extreme amazement in the Castle of Dorincourt
occasioned by the sight of the Earl playing a "home game" with Little
Lord Fauntleroy. No American grandfather thus engaged would cause the
least ripple of surprise. Little Lord Fauntleroy, we recall, had been
born in America, and had lived the whole ten years of his life with
Americans. He had acquired the habit, so characteristic of the children
of our Nation, of including his elders in his games. Quite naturally, on
his first day at the Castle, he said to the Earl, "My new game--wouldn't
you like to play it with me, grandfather?" The Earl, we remember, was
astonished. He had never been in America!
American grown-ups experience no astonishment when children invite them
to participate in their play. We are accustomed to such invitations. To
our ready acceptance of them the children are no less used. "Will you
play with us?" they ask with engaging confidence. "Of course we will!"
we find ourselves cordially responding.
I chanced, not a great while ago, to be ill in a hospital on Christmas
Day. Toward the middle of the morning, during the "hours for visitors,"
I heard a faint knock at my door.
Before I could answer it the door opened, and a little girl, her arms
full of toys, softly entered.
"Did you say 'Come in'?" she inquired.
Without waiting for a reply, she carefully deposited her toys on the
nurse's cot near her. Then, closing the door, she came and stood beside
my bed, and gazed at me in friendly silence.
"Merry Christmas!" I said.
"Oh, Merry Christmas!" she returned, formally, dropping a courtesy.
She was a sturdy, rosy-cheeked child, and, though wearing a fluffy white
dress and slippers, she looked as children only look after a walk in a
frosty wind. Clearly, she was not a patient.
"Whose little girl are you?" I asked.
"Papa's and mamma's," she said promptly.
"Where are they?" I next interrogated.
"In papa's room--down the hall, around the corner. Papa is sick; only,
he's better now, and will be all well soon. And mamma and I came to see
him, with what Santa Claus brought us."
"I see," I commented. "And these are the things Santa Claus brought
you?" I added, indicating the toys on the cot. "You have come, now, to
show them to me?"
Her face fell a bit. "I came to play at them with you," she said. "Your
nurse thought maybe you'd like to, for a while. Are you too sick to
play?" she continued, anxiously; "or too tired, or too busy?"
How seldom are any of us too sick to play; or too tired, or too busy! "I
am not," I assured my small caller. "I should enjoy playing. What shall
we begin with?" I supplemented, glancing again toward the toy-bestrewn
"Oh, there are ever so many things!" the little girl said. "But," she
went on hesitatingly, "_your_ things--perhaps you'd like--might I look
at them first?"
Most evident among these things of mine was a small tree, bedizened,
after the German fashion, with gilded nuts, fantastically shaped
candies, and numerous tiny boxes, gayly tied with tinsel ribbons.
"What's in the boxes--presents or jokes?" the little girl questioned.
"Have you looked?"
"I hadn't got that far, when you came," I told her; "but I rather
"_I'd_ want to _know_" she suggested.
When I bade her examine them for me, she said: "Let's play I am Santa
Claus and you are a little girl. I'll hand you the boxes, and you open
We did this, with much mutual enjoyment. The boxes, to my amusement and
her delight, contained miniature pewter dogs and cats and dolls and
dishes. "Why," my little companion exclaimed, "they aren't _jokes_; they
are _real presents_! They will be _just_ right to have when _little_
children come to see you!"
When the last of the boxes had been opened and my other less juvenile
"things" surveyed, the child turned to her own treasures. "There are the
two puzzles," she said, "and there is the big doll that can say 'Papa'
and 'Mamma,' and there is the paper doll, with lovely patterns and
pieces to make more clothes out of for it, and there is a game papa just
_loved_. Perhaps you'd like to play _that_ best, too, 'cause you are
sick, too?" she said tentatively.
I assented, and the little girl arranged the game on the table beside my
bed, and explained its "rules" to me. We played at it most happily until
my nurse, coming in, told my new-made friend that she must "say 'Good-
My visitor at once collected her toys and prepared to go. At the door
she turned. "Good-bye," she said, again dropping her prim courtesy. "I
have had a very pleasant time."
"So have I!" I exclaimed.
And I had had. "She was so entertaining," I said to my nurse, "and her
game was so interesting!"
"It is not an uncommon game," my nurse remarked, with a smile; "and she
is just an ordinary, nice child!"
America is full of ordinary, nice children who beguile their elders into
playing with them games that are not uncommon. How much "pleasant time"
is thereby spent!
"Where do American children learn to expect grown people to play with
them?" an Englishwoman once asked me. "In the kindergarten?"
Undoubtedly they do. In no country except Germany is the kindergarten so
integral a part of the national life as it is in America. In our cities,
rich and poor alike send their children to kindergartens. Not only in
the public and the private schools, but also in the social settlements,
and even in the Sunday-schools, we have kindergarten departments. In the
rural schools the teachers train the little "beginners" in accordance
with kindergarten principles. Even to places far away from any schools
at all the kindergarten penetrates. Only yesterday I saw a book, written
by a kindergartner, dedicated to "mothers on the rolling prairie, the
far-off rancho, the rocky island, in the lonely light-house, the
frontier settlement, the high-perched mining-camp," who, distant indeed
from school kindergartens and their equipment, might wish help in making
out of what materials they have well-equipped home kindergartens.
"Come, let us play with the children," the apostles of Froebel teach us.
And, "Come, let us ask the grown-ups to play with us," they would seem
unconsciously to instruct the children.
One autumn a friend of mine, the mother of a three-year-old boy and of a
daughter aged sixteen, said to me: "This is my daughter's first term in
the high school; she will need my help. My boy is just at the age when
it takes all the spare time I have to keep him out of mischief; how
shall I manage?"
"Send the boy to kindergarten," I advised. "He is ready to go; and it
will be good for him. He will bring some of the 'occupations' home with
him; and they will keep him out of mischief for you."
She sent the boy to a little kindergarten in the neighborhood.
About two months later, I said to her, "I suppose the kindergarten has
solved the problem of more spare time for your daughter's new demands
"Well--in a way," she replied, dubiously. "It gives me the morning free;
"Doesn't the boy bring home any 'occupations'?" I interposed.
My friend laughed. "Yes," she said; "he certainly does! But he doesn't
want to 'occupy' himself alone with them; he wants _all_ of us to do it
with him! We have become quite expert at 'weaving,' and 'folding,' and
'sewing'! But, on the other hand," she went on, "he isn't so much
trouble as he was. He wants us to play with him more, but he plays more
intelligently. We take real pleasure in joining in his games, and--
actually--in letting him share ours."
This little boy, now five years old, came to see me the other day.
"What would you like to do?" I asked, when we had partaken of tea.
"Shall we put the jig-saw puzzle together; or should you prefer to have
me tell you a story?"
"Tell me a story," he said at once; "and then I'll tell you one. And
then _you_ tell another--and then _I'll_ tell another--" He broke off,
to draw a long breath. "It's a game," he continued, after a moment. "We
play it in kindergarten."
"Do you enjoy telling stories more than hearing them told?" I inquired,
when we had played this game to the extent of three stories on either
"No," my little boy friend replied. "I like hearing stories told more
than anything. But _that_ isn't a game; that's just being-told-stories.
The _game_ is taking-turns-telling-stories." He enunciated each phrase
as though it were a single word.
His mother had spoken truly when she said that her little boy had
learned to play intelligently. He had learned, also, to include his
elders in his games on equal terms. Small wonder that they took real
pleasure in playing with him.
The children cordially welcome us to their games. They ask us to be
children with them. As heartily, they would have us bespeak their
company in our games; they are willing to try to be grown-up with us.
I was visiting a family recently, in which there is but one small child,
a boy of eight. One evening we were acting charades. Divided into camps,
we chose words in turn, and in turn were chosen to superintend the
"acting-out" of the particular word. It happened that the word
"Psychical-research," and the turn of the eight-year-old boy to be
stage-manager coincided. Every one in his camp laughed, but no one so
much as remotely suggested that the word or the stage-manager be
"What does it mean, 'Psychical-research'?" the boy made question.
We laughed still more, but we genuinely tried to make the term
comprehensible to the child's mind.
This led to such prolonged and lively argument that the little stage-
manager finally observed: "I don't see how it _can_ mean _all_ that all
of you say. Can't we let the whole-word act of it go, and act out the
rest? We can, you know--'Sigh,' 'kick,' 'all'; and 're' (like in music,
you know), and 'search!'"
"Oh, no," we demurred; "we must do it properly, or not at all!"
"Well, then," said the boy, in a quaintly resigned tone of voice, "talk
to me about it, until I know what it is!"
In spite of hints from the other camp not to overlap the time allotted
us, in the face of messages from them to hurry, regardless of their
protests against our dilatoriness, we did talk to that little eight-
year-old boy about "Psychical-research" until he understood its meaning
sufficiently to plan his final act. "If he is playing with us, then he
_is_ playing with us," his father somewhat cryptically remarked; "and he
must know the details of the game."
This playing with grown-ups does not curtail the play in which children
engage with their contemporaries. There are games that are distinctly
"children's games." We all know of what stuff they are made, for most of
us have played them in our time--running-games, jumping-games, shouting-
games. By stepping to our windows nearly any afternoon, we may see some
of them in process. But we shall not be invited to participate. At best,
the children will pause for a moment to ask, "Did you play it this way?"
Very likely we did not. Each generation plays the old games; every
generation plays them in a slightly new way. The present generation
would seem to play them with a certain self-consciousness; without that
_abandon_ of an earlier time.
A short while ago I happened to call upon a friend of mine on an
afternoon when, her nursemaid being "out," she was alone with her
children--a boy of seven and a girl of five. I found them together in
the nursery; my friend was sewing, and the children were playing
checkers. Apparently, they were entirely engrossed in their game.
Immediately after greeting me they returned to it, and continued it with
seeming obliviousness of the presence of any one excepting themselves.
But when their mother, in the course of a few moments, rose, and said to
me: "Let's go down to the library and have tea," both the children
instantly stopped playing--though one of them was in the very thick of
"taking a king"--and cried, "Oh, don't go; stay with us!"
[ILLUSTRATION: "DID YOU PLAY IT THIS WAY?"]
"My dears," my friend said, "you don't need us; you have your game.
Aren't you happy with it?"
"Why, yes," the little girl admitted; "but we want you to see us being
Only to-day, as I came up my street, a crowd of small children burst
upon me from behind a hedge; and, shouting and gesticulating, surrounded
me. Their faces were streaked with red, and blue, and yellow lines,
applied with crayons; feathers of various domestic kinds ornamented
their hats and caps, and they waved in the air broken laths, presumably
gifts from a builder at work in the vicinity.
"We are Indians!" they shrieked; "wild Indians! See our war-paint, and
feathers, and tomahawks! We hunt the pale face!"
While I sought about for an appropriate answer to make, my little
neighbors suddenly became calm.
"Don't we children have fun?" one of them questioned me. "You like to
see us having fun, don't you?"
I agreed, and again their war-whoops began. They followed me to my door
in a body. Inside I still heard them playing, but with lessened din.
Several times during the afternoon, hearing their noise increase, I
looked out; each time I saw that the arrival of another grown-up pale
face was the occasion of the climactic moment in the game. In order to
be wild Indians with perfect happiness the small players demanded an
appreciative audience to see them being happy.
Some of us in America are prone to deprecate in the children of our
Nation this pleased consciousness of their own enjoyment, this desire
for our presence as sympathetic onlookers at those of their games in
which we cannot join. We must not allow ourselves to forget that it is a
state of mind fostered largely by our National habit of treating
children as familiars and equals. Our satisfaction in their pleasures we
mention in their hearing. If they are aware that we like to see them
"being happy," it is because we have told them, and told them
repeatedly. We do not, as in a former time, "spell some of our words" in
their company, in order that they may not know all we say. On the
contrary, we pronounce all our words with especial clearness, and even
define such as are obscure, that the children not only may, but must,
fully understand us when we speak "before them." Unquestionably this
takes from the play of the children self-forgetfulness of one kind, but
sometimes it gives to them self-forgetfulness of another, a rarer kind.
I know a family of children, lovers of games which involve running
races. Several years ago one of the boys of this family died. Since his
death the other children run no more races.
"We like running races just as much," one of the girls explained to me
one evening, as we sat by the fire and talked about her dead brother;
"but, you know, _he_ always liked them best, because he generally won.
He loved to have mother see him winning. He was always getting her to
come and watch him do it. And mother liked it, and used to tell other
people about it. We don't run races now, because it might remind mother
No matter how joyously American children may play with their elders, or
with their contemporaries, whatever enhancement their satisfaction in
play with one another may gain from the presence of grown-up spectators,
they are not likely to become so dependent upon the one, nor so self-
conscious by reason of the other, that they will relinquish--or, worse
still, never know--the dear delights of "playing alone." Games played in
company may be the finest prose--they are yet prose; games played alone
are pure poetry. The children of our Nation are not without that
imagination which, on one day or another, impels a child to wander,
"lonely as a cloud," along the path of dreamful, solitary play.
How often a child who, to our eyes, appears to be doing nothing
whatever, is "playing alone" a delectable game! Probably, only once in a
hundred times, and then, by the merest accident, do we discover what
that game is.
Among my child friends there is a little boy who takes great pleasure in
seeing dramas acted. One spring day I took him to an open-air
presentation of "As You Like It."
The comedy was charmingly given in a clearing in a beautiful private
park. Orlando had "real" trees and hawthorns and brambles upon which to
hang his verses; and he made lavish use of them.
The fancy of my small friend was quite captivated by what he called
"playing hide-and-go-seek with poems." "What fun he has, watching her
find them and not letting her know he hid them!" he exclaimed.
Later in the season I went to spend a few days at the country home of
his parents. Early one morning, from my window, I espied the little boy,
stealthily moving about under the trees in the adjacent apple orchard.
At breakfast he remarked to me, casually, "It's nice in the orchard--all
"Will you go out there with me?" I asked.
"P'aps not to-day," he made reply. "But," he hazarded, "you could go by
yourself. It's nice," he repeated; "all apple blossoms. Get close to the
trees, and smell them."
It was a pleasant plan for a May morning.
I lost no time in putting it into practice. Involuntarily I sought that
corner of the orchard in which I had seen my small friend. Mindful of
his counsel, I got close to the apple blossoms and smelled them. As I
did so I noticed a crumpled sheet of paper in a crotch of one of the
trees. I no sooner saw it than I seized it, and, smoothing it out, read,
written in a primary-school hand:--
"The rose is red,
The violet blue,
Sugar is sweet,
And so are you."
Need I say that I had scarcely read this before I entered upon an
exhaustive search among the other trees? My amused efforts were well
rewarded. Between two flower-laden branches I descried another "poem,"
in identical handwriting:--
"A birdie with a yellow bill
Hopped upon the window-sill,
Cocked his shining eye and said
'Ain't you 'shamed, you sleepy-head!'"
In a tiny hollow I found still another, by the same hand:--
"'T was brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe."
As I went back to the house, bearing my findings, I met my little boy
friend. He tried not to see what I carried.
"I gathered these from the apple trees," I said, holding out the verses.
"They are poems."
He made no motion to take the "poems." His eyes danced. But neither then
did he say nor since has he said that the verses were his; that he was
the Orlando who had caused them to grow upon the trees.
Another child of my acquaintance, a little girl, I discovered in an even
sweeter game for "playing alone." She chanced to call upon me one
afternoon just as I was taking from its wrappings an _edition de luxe_
of "Pippa Passes." Her joy in the exquisite illustrations with which the
book was embellished even exceeded mine.
"Is the story in the book as lovely as the pictures?" she queried.
"Yes," I assured her.
Then, at her urgent request, I told her the tale of the "little black-
eyed pretty singing Felippa"; of her "single day," and of her singing
that "righted all again" on that holiday in Asolo.
The child was silent for a moment after I had finished the story. "Do
you like it?" I inquired.
"Um--yes," she mused. "Let me look at the pictures some more," she
asked, with sudden eagerness.
I handed her the book, and she pored over it for a long time. "The
houses then were not like the houses now--were they?" she said; "and the
people dressed in funny clothes."
The next Saturday, at an early hour, I heard beneath my window a
childish voice singing a kindergarten song. I peeped out. There stood my
little friend. I was careful to make no sound and to keep well in the
shadow. The small girl finished her song, and softly ran away.
"Your little girl serenaded me the other morning," I said to her mother
when I saw her a few days afterward. The child had shown so slight an
interest in anything in my book except the pictures that I did not yet
connect her singing with it.
"You, too!" exclaimed the little girl's mother. "She evidently serenaded
the entire neighborhood! All day Saturday, her only holiday, she went
around, singing under various windows! I wonder what put the idea into
"Did you ask her?" I questioned, with much curiosity.
"Yes," answered the child's mother; "but she only smiled, and looked
embarrassed, so I said nothing further. She seemed to want to keep her
secret, the dear baby! So I thought I'd let her!"
And I--I, too, kept it. "Yes, do let her," was all I said.
American children, when "playing alone," impersonate the heroes and
heroines of the dramas they see, or the stories they are told, or the
books they read (how much more often they must do it than we suspect our
memories of our own childish days will teach us), but when they play
together, even when they "play at books that they have read," they
seldom "pretend." A group of small boys who have just read "Robin Hood"
do not say: "Wouldn't it be fun to play that _we_ are Robin Hood and his
Merry Men, and that our grove is Sherwood Forest?" They are more apt to
say: "It would be good sport for _us_--shooting with bows and arrows. We
might get some, and fix up a target somewhere and practise." The circle
of little girls who have read "Mary's Meadow" do not propose that they
play at being Mary. They decide instead upon doing, in their own proper
persons, what Mary did in hers. They can play together, the children of
our Nation, but they seem unable to "pretend" together. They are perhaps
It is a significant circumstance that yearly there are published in
America a large number of books for children telling them "how to make"
various things. A great part of their play consists in making something
--from a sunken garden to an air-ship.
I recently had a letter from a boy in which he said: "The boys here are
getting wireless sets. We have to buy part of the things; but we make as
many of them as we can."
And how assiduously they attempt to make as many as they can of the
other things we grown-ups make! They imitate our play; and, in a spirit
of play, they contrive to copy to its last and least detail our work. If
we play golf or tennis, they also play these games. Are we painters of
pictures or writers of books, they too aspire to paint or to write!
It cannot be denied that we encourage the children in this "endless
imitation." We not only have diminutive golf sticks and tennis rackets
manufactured for their use as soon as they would play our games; when
they show signs of toying with our work, we promptly set about providing
them with the proper means to that end.
One of our best-known magazines for children devotes every month a
considerable number of its pages to stories and poems and drawings
contributed by children. Furthermore, it offers even such rewards as we
grown-up writers and painters are offered for "available" products.
Moreover, the young contributors are instructed in the intricacies of
literary and artistic etiquette. They are taught how to prepare
manuscripts and drawings for the editorial eye. The "rules" given these
children are identical with the regulations governing well-conducted
grown-up writers and artists--excepting that the children are commanded
to "state age," and "have the contribution submitted indorsed as wholly
It is a noteworthy fact that hundreds of children in America send in
contributions, month after month, year after year, to this magazine.
Even more significant is it that they prepare these contributions with
all the conscientious care of grown-up writers or painters to whom
writing or painting is the chiefest reality of life. So whole-heartedly
do the children play at being what their elders are!
[Illustration: THE DEAR DELIGHTS OF PLAYING ALONE]
An Italian woman once asked me, "The American children--what do they
employ as toys?"
I could only reply, "Almost anything; almost everything!"
When we are furthest from seeing the toy possibilities of a thing, they
see it. I have among my treasures a libation cup and a _ushabti_
figurine--votive offerings from the Temple of Osiris, at Abydos.
A short time ago a little boy friend of mine lighted upon them in their
safe retreat. "What are these?" he inquired.
"They came from Egypt--" I began.
"Oh, _really_ and _truly_?" he cried. "_Did_ they come from the Egypt in
"'Where among the desert sands
Some deserted city stands,
There I'll come when I'm a man
With a camel caravan;
And in a corner find the toys
Of the old Egyptian boys'?"
He spent a happy hour playing with the libation cup and the _ushabti_--
trophies of one of the most remarkable explorations of our era. I did
not tell him what they were. He knew concerning them all he needed to
know--that they could be "employed as toys." Perhaps the very tiniest of
the "old Egyptian boys" had known only this, too.
"Little girls do not play with dolls in these days!" is a remark that
has been made with great frequency of late years. Those of us who have
many friends among little girls often wonder what is at the basis of
this rumor. There have always been girls who did not care for dolls. In
the old-fashioned story for girls there was invariably one such. In
"Little Women," as we all recall, it was Jo. No doubt the persons who
say that little girls no longer play with dolls count among their
childish acquaintances a disproportionate number of Jos. Playing with
dolls would seem to be too fundamentally little-girlish ever to fall
"Girls, as well as boys, play with dogs in these days!" is another
plaintive cry we often hear. But were there ever days when this was not
the case? From that far-off day when Iseult "had always a little brachet
with her that Tristram gave her the first time that ever she came into
Cornwell," to the time when Dora cuddled Jip, even down to our own day,
when the heroine of "Queed" walks forth with her Behemoth, girls both in
fact and in fiction have played with dogs; played with them no less than
boys. This proclivity on the part of the little girls of our Nation is
not distinctively American, nor especially childish, nor particularly
girl-like; it is merely human.
In few activities do the children of our Nation reveal what we call the
"American sense of humor" so clearly as in their play. Slight ills, and
even serious misfortunes, they instinctively endeavor to lift and carry
with a laugh. It would be difficult to surpass the gay heroism to which
they sometimes attain.
Most of us remember the little hunchbacked boy in "Little Men" who, when
the children played "menagerie," chose the part of the dromedary.
"Because," he explained, "I have a hump on my back!"
Among my acquaintances there is a little girl who is blind. One day I
invited her to go picnicking with a party of normal children, one of
whom was her elder sister. She was accustomed to the company of children
who could see, and she showed a ready disposition to join in the games
of the other picnickers. Her sister stayed close beside her and guarded
and guided her.
"Let's play blind man's buff," one of the children heedlessly suggested
after a long course of "drop-the-handkerchief."
The other children with seeing eyes instantly looked at the child who
was sightless, and whispered, "Ssh! You'll hurt her feelings!"
But the little blind girl scrambled eagerly to her feet. "Yes," she
said, brightly; "let's play blind man's buff! _I_ can be 'It' _all_ the
There is a phrase that has been very widely adopted by Americans.
Scarcely one of us but uses it--"playing the game." Our highest
commendation of a man or a woman has come to be, "He plays the game," or
"She plays the game." Another phrase, often upon our lips, is "according
to the rules of the game." We Americans talk of the most sacred things
of life in the vocabulary of children at play. May not this be because
the children of our Nation play so well; so much better than we grown-
ups do anything?
THE COUNTRY CHILD
One spring, not long ago, a friend of mine, knowing that I had a desire
to spend the summer in the "real country," said to me, "Why don't you go
to a farm somewhere in New England? Nothing could be more 'really
countrified' than that! You would get what you want there."
Her advice rather appealed to my fancy. I at once set about looking for
a New England farmhouse in which I might be received as a "summer
boarder." Hearing of one that was situated in a particularly healthful
and beautiful section of New England, I wrote to the woman who owned and
operated it, telling her what I required, and asking her whether or no
she could provide me with it. "Above all things," I concluded my letter,
"I want quiet."
Her somewhat lengthy reply ended with these words: "The bedroom just
over the music-room is the quietest in the house, because no one is in
the music-room excepting for a social hour after supper. I can let you
have that bedroom."
My friend had said that nothing was so "really countrified" as a New
England farm. But a "music-room," a "social hour after supper!" The
terms suggested things distinctly urban.
I sent another letter to the woman to whom this amazing farmhouse
belonged. "I am afraid I cannot come," I wrote. "I want a simpler
place." Then, yielding to my intense curiosity, I added: "Are many of
your boarders musical? Is the music-room for their use?"
"No place could be simpler than this," she answered, by return mail. "I
don't know whether any of my boarders this year will be musical or not.
Some years they have been. The music-room isn't for my boarders,
especially; it is for my niece. She is very musical, but she doesn't get
much time for practising in the summer."
She went on to say that she hoped I would decide to take the bedroom
over the music-room. I did. I had told her that, above all things, I
desired quiet; but, after reading her letters, I think I wished, above
all things, to see the music-room, and the niece who was musical.
"She will probably be a shy, awkward girl," one of my city neighbors
said to me; "and no doubt she will play 'The Maiden's Prayer' on a
melodeon which will occupy one corner of the back sitting-room. You will
In order to reach the farm it was necessary not only to take a journey
on a train, but also to drive three miles over a hilly road. The little
station at which I changed from the train to an open two-seated carriage
in waiting for me was the usual rural village, with its one main street,
its commingled post-office and dry-goods and grocery store, and its
small white meeting-house.
The farm, as we approached it, called to mind the pictures of old New
England farms with which all of us are familiar. The house itself was
over a hundred years old, I afterward learned; and had for that length
of time "been in the family" of the woman with whom I had corresponded.
She was on the broad doorstone smiling a welcome when, after an hour's
drive, the carriage at last came to a stop. Beside her was her niece,
the girl whom I had been so impatient to meet. She was neither shy nor
"Are you tired?" she inquired. "What should you like to do? Go to your
room or rest downstairs until supper-time? Supper will be ready in about
"I'd like to see the music-room," I found myself saying.
"Oh," exclaimed the girl, her face brightening, "are you musical? How
As she spoke she led the way into the music-room. It was indeed a back
sitting-room. Its windows opened upon the barnyard; glancing out, I saw
eight or ten cows, just home from pasture, pushing their ways to the
drinking-trough. I looked around the little room. On the walls were
framed photographs of great composers, on the mantelshelf was a
metronome, on the centre-table were two collections of classic piano
pieces, and in a corner was,--not a melodeon,--but a piano. The maker's
name was on it--a name famous in two continents.
"Your aunt told me you were musical," I said to the girl. "I see that
the piano is your instrument."
"Yes," she assented. "But I don't play very well. I haven't had many
lessons. Only one year with a really good teacher."
"Who was your teacher?" I asked idly. I fully expected her to say, "Some
one in the village through which you came."
"Perhaps you know my teacher," she replied; and she mentioned the name
of one of the best pianists and piano teachers in New England.
"Most of the time I've studied by myself," she went on; "but one year
auntie had me go to town and have good lessons."
At supper this girl waited on the table, and after supper she washed the
dishes and made various preparations for the next morning's breakfast.
Then she joined her aunt and the boarders, of whom there were nine, on
"I should so like to hear you play something on the piano," I said to
She at once arose, and, followed by me, went into the music-room, which
was just off the veranda. "I only play easy things," she said, as she
seated herself at the piano.
Whereupon she played, with considerable skill, one of Schumann's simpler
compositions, one of Schubert's, and one of Grieg's. Then, turning
around on the piano-stool, she asked me, "Do you like Debussy?"
I thought of what my neighbor had prophesied concerning "The Maiden's
Prayer." Debussy! And this girl was a country girl, born and bred on
that dairy farm, educated at the little district school of the vicinity;
and, moreover, trained to take a responsible part in the work of the
farm both in winter and in summer. Her family for generations had been
It was not surprising that she had made the acquaintance of Debussy's
music; nor that she had at her tongue's end all the arguments for and
against it. Her music-teacher was, of course, accountable for this. What
was remarkable was that she had had the benefit of that particular
teacher's instruction; that, country child though she was, she had been
given exactly the kind, if not the amount, of musical education that a
city child of musical tastes would have been given.
My neighbor had predicted a shy, awkward girl, a melodeon, and "The
Maiden's Prayer." One of our favorite fallacies in America is that our
country people are "countrified." Nothing could be further from the
truth, especially in that most important matter, the up-bringing of
their children. Country parents, like city parents, try to get the best
for their children. That "best" is very apt to be identical with what
city parents consider best. Circumstances may forbid their giving it to
their children as lavishly as do city parents; conditions may force them
to alter it in various ways in order to fit it to the needs of boys and
girls who live on a farm, and not on a city street; but in some sort
they attempt to obtain it, and, having obtained it, to give it to their
[Illustration: "THE CHILDREN--THEY ARE SUCH DEARS!"]
They are as ambitious for the education of their children as city
parents; and to an amazing extent they provide for them a similar
academic training. An astonishing proportion of the students in our
colleges come from country homes, in which they have learned to desire
collegiate experience; from country schools, where they have received
the preparation necessary to pass the required college entrance
examinations. Surrounded, as we in cities are, by schools especially
planned, especially equipped, to make children ready for college, we may
well wonder how country children in rural district schools, with their
casual schedules and meagre facilities, are ever so prepared. By
visiting even a few district schools we may in part discover.
I happened, not a great while ago, to spend an autumn month on a farm in
a very sparsely settled section of New Hampshire.
One morning at breakfast, shortly after Labor Day, my landlady said:
"School opens next week. The teacher is coming here to board for the
winter. I expect her to-day."
"Where does she come from?" I asked.
"From Smith College," the farmer replied, unexpectedly. "This is her
second year of teaching our school."
The school-teacher arrived late in the afternoon. My landlady was
"expecting" her; so was I, no less eagerly.
"Why were you interested in me?" she inquired, when, on further
acquaintance, I confessed this to her.
"Because, with a training that fits you for work in a carefully graded
school or a college, you chose to teach here. Why did you?"
"For three reasons," she answered. "Country life is better for my health
than city life; the people around here are thoroughly awake to the
importance of education; and the children--they are such dears! You must
see them when school opens."
I did see them then. Also, I saw them before that time. When the news of
their teacher's arrival reached them, they came "by two, and threes, and
fuller companies" to welcome her. They ranged in age from a boy and a
girl of fifteen to two little girls of six. Each and every one was
rapturously glad to see the teacher; they all brought her small gifts,
and all of them bore messages from their homes, comprising a score of
invitations to supper, the loan of a tent for the remainder of the mild
weather, and the offer of a "lift" to and from school on stormy days.
The teacher accepted these tributes as a matter of course. She was
genuinely glad to see her old pupils. In her turn, she sent messages to
their several homes, and gave into the children's hands tokens she had
purposely gathered together for them. "We'll meet on Monday at the
school-house," she finally said; and the children, instantly responding
to the implied suggestion, bade her good-bye, and went running down the
dusty road. Each one of them lived at least a mile away; many of them
more than two miles.
On Monday I accompanied the teacher to school. The school-house was a
small, one-roomed, wooden building. It contained little besides a few
rows of desks and benches for the children, two or three maps, and
blackboards, a tiny closet filled with worn books, the teacher's desk,
and a coal stove. But it had windows on three sides, and was set down in
the midst of a grassy meadow bordered with a stone wall.
There were fourteen pupils. They were all assembled in the school-yard
when we arrived. The boys were playing baseball, and the girls, perched
on the stone wall, were watching them. The moment they saw the teacher
boys and girls alike came to escort her to her place in the school-
house. When she was in it, they took their own places--those they had
occupied during the former term. There was one "new" pupil, a small boy.
He had been so frequently a "visiting scholar" the previous year that
his newness was not very patent. There was a desk that he also claimed
"We will sing 'America,'" were the words with which the teacher
commenced the new school year, "and then we will go on with our work,
beginning where we left off in the spring."
We hear a great deal at the present time concerning the education of the
"particular child." In the very best of our private schools in the city
each pupil is regarded as a separate and distinct individual, and taught
as such. This ideal condition of things prevailed in that little
district school in the farming region of New Hampshire. That teacher had
fourteen pupils; practically, she had fourteen "grades." Even when it
happened that two children were taught the same lesson, each one was
taught it individually.
"They are all so different!" the teacher said, when I commented upon the
difference of her methods with the various children. "That boy, who
hopes to go to college and then teach, needs to get one thing from his
history lesson; and that girl, who intends to be a post-office clerk as
soon as she finishes school, needs to get something else."
She did not aim to prepare her pupils for college. The district school
was only a "grammar school." There was a high school in the nearest
village, which was three miles away; she made her pupils ready for
entrance into that. In order to attend the high school, more than one
child in that neighborhood, year after year, in sunshine and storm,
walked two and three miles twice daily. Many a child who lived still
farther away was provided by an interested father with a horse and a
conveyance with which to make the two journeys a day. No wonder the
teacher of that district school felt that the people in the neighborhood
were "thoroughly awake to the importance of education"!
As for the children--she had said that they were "such dears!" They
were. I remember, in particular, two; a brother and sister. She was
eight years old, and he was nine. They were inseparable companions. On
bright days they ran to school hand in hand. When it rained, they
trudged along the muddy road under one umbrella.
The school-teacher had taught the little girl George Eliot's poem
"Brother and Sister." She could repeat it word for word, excepting the
line, "I held him wise." She always said that, "I hold him tight." This
"piece" the small girl "spoke" on a Friday afternoon. The most winning
part of her altogether lovely recitation was the smile with which she
glanced at her brother as she announced its title. He returned her
smile; when she finished her performance, he led the applause.
Before the end of my visit I became very intimate with that brother and
sister. I chanced to be investigating the subject of "juvenile books."
"What books have you?" I inquired of the little girl.
"Ever so many of all kinds," she replied. "Come to our house and look at
them," she added cordially.
Their house proved to be the near-by farm. One of the best in that
section, it was heated with steam and furnished with running water and
plumbing. It had also a local and long-distance telephone. The brother
and sister were but two of a family of seven children. Their father, who
was a member of the school committee, and their mother, who was a
graduate of a city high school, were keenly interested in, and,
moreover, very well informed on, the subject of pedagogy. They had read
a great number of books relating to it, and were in the habit of
following in the newspapers the procedures of the National Education
"Your children have a large number of exceedingly good books!" I
exclaimed, as I looked at the many volumes on a day appointed for that
purpose by the mother of the family. "I wish all children had as fine a
"Country children _must_ have books," she replied, "if they are going to
be educated _at all._ City children can _see_ things, and learn about
them that way. Country children have to read about them if they are to
know about them."
The books were of many types--poetry, fiction, historical stories,
nature study, and several volumes of the "how to make" variety. All of
these were of the best of their several kinds--identical with the books
found in the "Children's Room" in any well-selected public library. Some
of them had been gifts to the children from "summer boarders," but the
majority had been chosen and purchased by their parents.
"We hunt up the names of good books for children in the book review
departments of the magazines," the mother said.
When I asked what magazines, she mentioned three. Two she and her
husband "took"; the other she borrowed monthly from a neighbor, on an
No other children in that region were so abundantly supplied with books;
but all whom I met liked to read. Their parents, in most cases unable to
give them numerous books, had, in almost every instance, taught them to
One boy with whom I became friends had a birthday while I was in the
neighborhood. I had heard him express a longing to read "The Lays of
Ancient Rome," which neither he nor any other child in the vicinity
possessed, so I presented him with a copy of it.
"Would you mind if I gave it to the library?" he asked. "Then the other
children around could read it, too."
"The library!" I exclaimed.
"Oh, I don't mean the one down in the village," he hastened to explain.
"I mean the one here, near us. Haven't you been to it?"
When he found that I had not, he offered to go with me to see it. It
turned out to be a "lean-to" in a farmhouse that was in a rather central
position with relation to the surrounding farms. The library consisted
of about two hundred volumes. The librarian was an elderly woman who
lived in the house. One was allowed, she told me, to take out as many
books as one wished, and to keep them until one had finished reading
"Do you want to take out any?" she inquired.
After examining the four or five shelves that comprised the library, I
wanted to take out at least fifty. The books, especially the "juvenile
books," were those of a former generation. Foremost among them were the
"Rollo Books," "Sandford and Merton," Mary Howitt's "Story-Book," and
"The Parents' Assistant."
"Who selected the books?" I asked.
"Nobody exactly _selected_ them," the librarian said. "Every one around
here gave a few from their collections, so's we could have a near-to
library--principally on account of the children. I live most convenient
to every one hereabouts; so I had shelves put up in my lean-to for
News travels very rapidly indeed in the country. My boy friend told some
of the other children that I was reading the _oldest_ books in the
library. "She takes them out by the armfuls," I overheard him remark.
No doubt he made more comments that I did not overhear; for one morning
a small girl called to see me, and, after a few preliminaries, said, "If
you are through with 'The Fairchild Family,' may I have it? You like it
awfully much, don't you?"
Not only in the secular teaching of their children do thoughtful country
parents, in common with careful fathers and mothers living elsewhere,
try to obtain the best means and to use them to the best ends; in the
religious instruction of their children they make a similar attempt.
They are not content to let their children learn entirely at home, to
depend solely upon parental guidance. The church, and even the Sunday
school, are integral parts in the up-bringing of the most happily
situated country children. The little white meeting-houses in the small
rural villages are familiar places to the country child--joyously
familiar places, at that. The only weekly outing that falls to the lot
of the younger children of country parents is the Sunday trip to church
and Sunday school.
What do they get from it? Undoubtedly, very much what city children
receive from the church and the Sunday school--in quantity and in
quality. There is a constant pleasure from the singing; an occasional
glimmer of illumination from the sermon; and an unfailing delight from
the Bible stories. We can be reasonably sure that _all_ children get
thus much from the habitual church and Sunday-school attendance. Some,
irrespective of city or country environment, glean more.
A small country boy of my acquaintance brought from Sunday school one of
the most unique versions of a Scriptural passage with which I have ever
met. "Did you go to church this morning?" I inquired of him, one Sunday
afternoon, when, catching a glimpse of me under the trees near his home,
he came, as he explained, to "pass the time of day" with me.
"Yes," he answered; "and I went to Sunday school, too."
"And what was your lesson about?" I asked.
"Oh, about the roses--"
"Roses?" I interrupted, in surprise.
"Yes," the little boy went on; "the roses--you know--in the gardens."
"I don't remember any Sunday-school lesson about them," I said.
"But there _is_ one; we had it to-day. The roses, they made the children
have good manners. Then, one day, the children were greedy; and their
manners were bad. Don't you know about it?" he added anxiously.
He was but five years old. I told him about Moses; I explained
painstakingly just who the Children of Israel were; and I did my best to
point out clearly the difference between manna and manners. He listened
with seeming understanding; but the next day, coming upon me as I was
fastening a "crimson rambler" to its trellis, he inquired solemnly, "Can
the roses make children have good manners, _yet_?"
Country children are taught, even as sedulously as city children, the
importance of good manners! On the farm, as elsewhere, the small left
hand is seized in time by a mother or an aunt with the well-worn words,
"Shake hands with the _right_ hand, dear." "If you please," as promptly
does an elder sister supplement the little child's "Yes," on the
occasion of an offer of candy from a grown-up friend. The proportion of
small boys who make their bows and of little girls who drop their
courtesies is much the same in the country as it is in the city.
[Illustration: A SMALL COUNTRY BOY]
In the matter of clothes, too, the country mother, like any other mother
in America, wishes her children to be becomingly attired, in full accord
with such of the prevailing fashions as seem to her most suitable. In
company with the greater portion of American mothers, she devotes
considerable time and strength and money to the wardrobes of her boys
and girls. The result is that country children are dressed strikingly
like city children. Their "everyday" garments are scarcely
distinguishable from the "play clothes" of city children; their "Sunday"
clothes are very similar to the "best" habiliments of the boys and girls
who do not live in the country.
We have all read, in the books of our grandmothers' childhood, of the
children who, on the eve of going to visit their city cousins, were much
exercised concerning their wearing apparel. "_Would_ the pink frock,
with the green sash, be _just_ what was being worn to parties in the
city?" the little girl of such story-books fearfully wondered. "Will
boys of my age be wearing short trousers _still_?" the small boy
dubiously queried. Invariably it transpired that pink frocks and green
sashes, if in fashion at all, were _never_ seen at parties; and that
_long_ trousers were absolutely essential, from the point of view of
custom, for boys of our hero's age. Many woes were attendant upon the
discovery that these half-suspected sumptuary laws were certain facts.
No present-day country boy and girl, coming from the average home to the
house of city cousins, would need to feel any such qualms. Should they,
five minutes' inspection of the garments of those city cousins would
relieve their latent questionings. They would see that, to the casual
eye, they and their cousins were dressed in the same type of raiment.
How could they fail to be? A large crop of "fashion magazines"
flourishes in America. The rural free delivery brings them to the very
doors of the farmhouse. By the use of mail orders the mother on the farm
can obtain whatever materials the particular "fashion magazine" to which
she is a subscriber advises, together with paper patterns from which she
can cut anything, from "jumpers" to a "coat for gala occasions."
The approved clothes of all American children in our time are so
exceedingly simple in design that any woman who can sew at all can
construct them; and, in the main, the materials of which they are made
are so inexpensive that even the farmer whose income is moderate in size
can afford to supply them. A clergyman who had worked both in city and
in country parishes once told me that he attributed the marked increase
in ease and grace of manner--and, consequently, in "sociability"--among
country people to-day, as compared with country people of his boyhood,
very largely to the invention of paper patterns.
"Rural folk dressed in a way peculiar to themselves then," he said; "now
they dress like the rest of the world. It is curious," he went on,
reflectively, "but human beings, as a whole, seem unable not to be
awkward in their behavior if their costumes can possibly be
differentiated otherwise than by size!"
It is another queer fact that normal persons would seem to require
"best" clothes. They share the spirit of Jess, in "A Window in Thrums."
"But you could never wear yours, though ye had ane," said Hendry to her
about the "cloak with beads"; "ye would juist hae to lock it awa in the
drawers." "Aye," Jess retorted, "but I would aye ken it was there."
I have an acquaintance who is not normal in this matter. She scorns
"finery," whether for use or for "locking awa." One summer she and I
spent a fortnight together on a Connecticut farm. During the week the
farmer and his wife, as well as their two little children, a girl and a
boy, wore garments of dark-colored denim very plainly made. The children
"These people have sense," my acquaintance observed to me on the first
day of our sojourn; "they dress in harmony with their environment."