Maria Edgeworth.

The parent's assistant; or, Stories for children online

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Lazy Lawrence . 13

Tarlton 37

The False Key 54

The Birthday Present 76

Simple Susan 91

The Bracelets 151

The Little Merchants 177

Old Poz 228

The Mimic 240

Mademoiselle Panache 270

The Basket. Woman 294

The White Pigeon 308

The Orphans 318

Waste not, W r ant not 339

Forgive and Forget 365

The Barring Out, or Party Spirit 379

Eton Montem . . . . . . . 417



All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been
convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of

A MOTTO from Aristotle may appear pedantic, but it
was chosen merely to oppose such high authority to the
following assertions of Dr. Johnson :

" Education," says he, '' is as well known, and has
long been as well known, as ever it can be. Endea-
vouring to make children prematurely wise is useless
labour. Suppose they have more knowledge at five or
six years old than other children, what use can be made
of it 1 It will be lost before it is wanted, and the waste
of so much time and labour of the teacher is never to be
repaid."* The remainder of this passage contains such
an illiberal attack upon a celebrated female writer, as
ought surely to have been suppressed by Dr. Johnson's
biographer. When the doctor attempted to ridicule this
lady for keeping an infant boarding-school, and for con-
descending to write elementary books for children, he
forgot his own eulogium upon Dr. Watts, of whom he
speaks thus :

" For children he condescended to lay aside the phi-
losopher, the scholar, and the wit, to write little
poems of devotion, and systems of instruction adapted
to their wants and capacities, from the dawn of reason
to its gradation of advance in the morning of life.
Every man, acquainted with the common principles of
human action, will look with veneration on the writer
who is at one time combating Locke, and at anothei
time making a catechism for children in their fourth year*

* BoswelF? Life of Johnson,


A voluntary descent from the dignity of science is per-
haps the hardest lesson which humility can teach."

It seems, however, a very easy task to write for chil-
dren. Those only who have been interested in the edu-
cation of a family, who have patiently followed children
through the first processes of reasoning, who have daily
watched over their thoughts and feelings, those only,
who know with what ease and rapidity the early asso-
ciations of ideas are formed on which the future taste,
character, and happiness depend, can feel the dangers
and difficulties of such an undertaking.

For a length of time education was classed among
the subjects of vague and metaphysical speculation; but
of late it has attained its proper station in experimental
philosophy. The sober sense of Locke and the enthu-
siastic eloquence of Rousseau have directed to this ob-
ject the attention of philosophers and men of genius.
Many theories have been invented, several just obser-
vations have been made, and some few facts have been

Dr. Reid remarks, that " if we could obtain a distinct
and full history of all that hath passed in the mind of a
child from the beginning of life and sensation till it
grows up to the use of reason, how its infant faculties
began to work, and how they brought forth and ripened
all the various notions, opinions, and sentiments which
we find in ourselves when we come to be capable of re-
flection, this would be a treasure of natural history,
which would probably give more light to the human
faculties than all the systems of philosophers about
them since the beginning of the world."*

Indeed, in all sciences the grand difficulty has been
to ascertain facts a. difficulty which, in the science of
education, peculiar circumstances conspire to increase.
Here the objects of every experiment are so interesting,
that we cannot hold our minds indifferent to the result.
Nor is it to be expected that many registers of experi-
ments, successful and unsuccessful, should be kept,
much less should be published, when we consider, that
the combined powers of affection and vanity, of par-
tiality to his child and to his theory, will act upon the
mind of a parent, in opposition to the abstract love of
justice, and the general desire to increase the wisdom
and happiness of manKind,

* Dr. Reid on the Intellectual Powers of Man.


Notwithstanding these difficulties, an attempt to keep
such a register has actually been made : it was began
in the year 1776, long before Dr. Reid's book was pub-
lished. The design has from time to time been pursued
to this present year ; and though much has not been
collected, every circumstance and conversation that has
been preserved is faithfully and accurately related.

These notes have been of great advantage to the
writer of the following stories, and will, probably, at
some future time, be laid before the public, as a collec-
tion of experiments upon a subject which has been
hitherto treated theoretically.

The following tales have been divided into two parts,
as they were designed for different classes of children.
The question, whether society could subsist without the
distinction of ranks, is a question involving a variety of
complicated discussions, which AVC leave to the poli-
tician and the legislator. At present, it is necessary
that the education of different ranks should, in some
respects, be different : they have few ideas, few habits,
in common ; their peculiar vices and virtues do not
arise from the same causes, and their ambition is to be
directed to different objects. But justice, truth, and hu-
manity are confined to no particular rank, and should
be enforced with equal care and energy upon the minds
of young people of every station ; and it is hoped that
these principles have never been forgotten in the fol-
lowing pages.

As the ideas of children multiply, the language of
their books should become less simple, else their taste
will quickly be disgusted, or will remain stationary.
Children that live with people who converse with ele-
gance will not be contented with a style inferior to
what they hear from everybody near them.

It may be remarked, that almost all language is meta-
phoric from the conversation of the maid in the nur-
sery, who lulls a cross infant to sleep, to that of the
lady in the drawing-room, who, with silly civility, takes
a child upon her lap to entertain it by a repetition of
fashionable phrases. Slang (the term is disgracefully
naturalized in our vocabulary) contains as much and as
abstract metaphor as can be found in the most refined
literary language. Nor have we reason to suppose
that one kind of metaphor is more difficult than another
to be understood by children ; they frequently hear the
most complicated metaphorical expressions in conver-


sation, such as allude to our fashions and the prejudices
of society, with which they are utterly unacquainted.

All poetical allusions have, however, been avoided in
this book only such situations are described as chil-
dren can easily imagine, and which may consequently
interest their feelings. Such examples of virtue are
painted as are not above their conception of excellence,
and their powers of sympathy and emulation.

It is not easy to give re-wards to children which shall
not indirectly do them harm, by fostering some hurtful
taste or passion. In the story of Lazy Lawrence, where
the object was to excite a spirit of industry, care has
been taken to proportion the reward to the exertion,
and to point out that people feel cheerful and happy
while they are employed. The reward of our indus-
trious boy, though it be money, is only money considered
as the means of gratifying a benevolent wish. In a com-
mercial nation, it is especially necessary to separate,
as much as possible, the spirit of industry and avarice,
and to beware lest we introduce Vice under the form
of Virtue.

In the story of Tarlton and Loveit are represented
the danger and the folly of that weakness of mind, and
easiness to be led, which too often pass for good-nature ;
and in the stoiy of the False Key are pointed out some
of the evils to which a well educated boy, when he
first goes to service, is exposed, from the profligacy of
his fellow-servants.

In the Birth-day Present, in the History of Mademoi-
selle. Panache, and in the character of Mrs. Theresa Tattle,
the Parent's Assistant has pointed out the dangers which
may arise in education from a bad servant, a silly gov-
erness, and a common acquaintance.

In the Barring Out, the errors to which a high spirit
and the love of party are apt to lead, have been made
the subject of correction ; and it is hoped that the com-
mon fault of making the most mischievous characters
appear the most active and the most ingenious, has been
as much as possible avoided. Unsuccessful cunning will
not be admired, and cannot induce imitation.

It has likewise been attempted in these stories to
provide antidotes against ill-humour, the epidemic rage
for dissipation, and the fatal propensity to admire and
imitate whatever the fashion of the moment ma)^ dis-
tinguish. Were young people, either in public schools
or in private families, absolutely free from bad exam-


pies, it would not be advisable to introduce despicable
and vicious characters in books intended for their im-
provement. But in real life they must see vice, and it
is best that they should be early shocked with the rep-
resentation of what they are to avoid. There is a great
deal of difference between innocence and ignorance.

To prevent precepts of morality from tiring the ear
and the mind, it was necessary to make the stories in
which they are introduced in some measure dramatic,
to keep alive hope, and fear, and curiosity, by some
degree of intricacy. At the same time care has been
taken to avoid inflaming the imagination, or exciting
a restless spirit of adventure, by exhibiting false views
of life, and creating hopes which, in the ordinary course
of things, cannot be realized.'

Dr. Johnson to recur to him, not from a spirit of
contradiction, but from a fear that his authority should
establish errors Dr. Johnson says, that " Babies do
not like to hear stories of babies like themselves ;
they require to have their imaginations raised by tales
of giants, and fairies, and castles, and enchantments."
The fact remains to be proved : but supposing that
they do prefer such tales, is this a reason why they
should be indulged in reading them? It maybe said
that a little experience in life would soon convince them
that fairies, giants, and enchanters are not to be met
with in the world. But why should the mind be filled
with fantastic visions, instead of useful knowledge ?
Why should so much valuable time be lost ] Why
should we vitiate their taste and spoil their appetite by
suffering them to feed upon sweetmeats ? It is to be
hoped that the magic of Dr. Johnson's name will not
have power to restore the reign of fairies.

But even when the improbability of fairy tales is
avoided, care should be taken to keep objects in their
just proportions, when we attempt an imitation of real

" Love, hatred, fear, and anger are to be raised in
the soul," says an eminent poet, " by showing their ob-
jects out of their true proportion, either greater than
the life or less ; but instruction is to be given by show-
ing them what they really are."

And surely a writer who sincerely wishes to increase
the happiness of mankind will find it easy to give up
the fame that might be acquired by eloquence, when it
is injurious to the cause of truth.


IN the pleasant village of Ashton there lived an elderly
woman of the name of Preston : she had a small neat
cottage, and there was not a weed to be seen in her
garden. It was upon her garden that she chiefly de-
pended for support : it consisted of strawberry-beds,
and one small border for flowers. The pinks and roses
she tied up in nice nosegays, and sent either to Clifton
or Bristol to be sold ; as to her strawberries, she did
not send them to market, because it was the custom for
numbers of people to come from Clifton, in the sum-
mer-time, to eat strawberries and cream at the gardens
in Ashton.

Now the widow Preston was so obliging, active, and
good-humoured, that every one who came to see her was
pleased. She lived happily in this manner for several
years ; but alas ! one autumn she fell sick, and during
her illness every thing went wrong ; her garden was
neglected, her cow died, and all the money which she
had saved was spent in paying for medicines. The
winter passed away, while she was so weak that she
could earn but little by her work ; and when the sum-
mer came, her rent was called for, and the rent was
not ready in her little purse as usual. She begged a
few months' delay, and they were granted to her ; but
at the end of that time there was no resource but to sell
her horse Lightfoot. Now Lightfoot, though perhaps
he had seen his best days, was a very great favourite ;
in his youth he had always carried the dame to market
behind her husband; and it was now her little son
Jem's turn to ride him. It was Jem's business to feed
Lightfoot, and to take care of him ; a charge which he
never neglected, for, besides being a very good-natured,
he was a very industrious boy.

B "


" It will go near to break my Jem's heart," said Dame
Preston to herself as she sat one evening beside the fire,
stirring the embers, and considering how she had best
open the matter to her son, who stood opposite to her,
eating a dry crust of bread very heartily for supper.

" Jem," said the old woman, "what, art hungry?"

" That I am, brave and hungry !"

" Ay ! no wonder, you've been brave hard at work

" Brave hard ! I wish it was not so dark, mother, that
you might just step out and see the great bed I've dug ;
I know you'd say it was no bad day's work and, oh
mother! I've good news; Farmer Truck will give us the
giant-strawberries, and I'm to go for 'em to-morrow
morning, and I'll be back afore breakfast !"

" Bless the boy ! how he talks ! Four mile there and
four mile back again, afore breakfast !"

" Ay, upon Lightfoot, you know, mother, very easily,
mayn't I ?"

" Ay, child !"

" Why do you sigh, mother ?"

" Finish thy supper, child."

" I've done !" cried Jem, swallowing the last mouth-
ful hastily, as if he thought he had been too long at
supper " and now for the great needle; I must see and
mend Lightfoot's bridle afore I go to bed." To work
he set, by the light of the fire ; and the dame, having once
more stirred it, began again with, " Jem, dear, does he
go lame at all now ?" " What, Lightfoot ! Oh la, no,
not he ! never was so well of his lameness in all his
life he's grown quite young again, I think ; and then
he's so fat he can hardly wag." " Bless him that's
right we must see, Jem, and keep him fat."

" For what, mother ?"

" For Monday fortnight at the fair. He's to be
sold !"

" Lightfoot !" cried Jem, and let the bridle fall from
his hand ; " and will mother sell Lightfoot ?"

" Will ! no : but I must, Jem."

" Must; who says you must? why must you, mother?"

" I must, I say, child Why, must not I pay my debts
honestly and must not I pay my rent ; and was not it
called for long and long ago ; and have not I had time ;
and did I not promise to pay it for certain Monday
fortnight, and am not I two guineas short and where
am I to get two guineas ? So what signifies talking,


child 1" said the widow, leaning her head upon her arm,
" Lightfoot must go."

Jem was silent for a few minutes. " Two guineas ;
that's a great, great deal. If I worked, and worked,
and worked ever so hard, I could no ways earn two
guineas afore Monday fortnight could I, mother ?"

" Lord help thee, no ; not an' work thyself to death."

" But I could earn something, though, I say," cried*
Jem, proudly ; "and I will earn something if it be ever
so little it will be something and I shall do my very
best ; so I will."

" That I'm sure of, my child," said his mother, draw-
iftg him towards her, and kissing him ; " you were
always a good industrious lad, that I will say afore
your face or behind your back ; but it won't do now
Lightfoot must go."

Jem turned away, struggling to hide his tears, and
went to bed without saying a word more. But he knew
that crying would do no good : so he presently w r iped
his eyes, and lay awake, considering what he could
possibly do to save the horse. " If I get ever so little,"
he still said to himself, " it will be something ; and
who knows but landlord might then wait a bit longer ?
and we might make it all up in time : for a penny a-day
might come to two guineas in time."

But how to get the first penny was the question.
Then he recollected that one day when he had been sen!
to Clifton to sell some flowers he had seen an old w r omau
with a board beside her covered with various sparkling
stones, which people stopped to look at as they passed,
and he remembered that some people bought the stones ;
one paid twopence, another threepence, and another
sixpence for them ; and Jem heard her say that she
got them among the neighbouring rocks : so he thought
that if he tried he might find some too, and sell them
as she had done.

Early in the morning he waked full of his schemes,
jumped up, dressed himself, and having given one look
at poor Lightfoot in his stable, set off to Clifton in
search of the old woman, to inquire where she found
her sparkling stones. But it was too early in the
morning, the old woman was not at her seat ; so he
turned back again disappointed. He did not waste his
time waiting for her, but saddled and bridled Lightfoot,
and went to Farmer Truck's for the giant-strawberries.
A great part of the morning was spent in putting them


into the ground ; and as soon as that was finished, he
set out again in quest of the old woman, who, to his
great joy, he spied sitting at her corner of the street
with her board before her. But this old woman was
deaf and cross ; and when at last Jem made her hear
his questions, he could get no answer from her, but
,that she found the fossils where he would never find
any more. " But can't I look where you looked T'
" Look away, nobody hinders you," replied the old
woman; and these were the only words she would
say. Jem was not, however, a boy to be easily dis-
couraged ; he went to the rocks, and walked slowly
along, looking at all the stones as he passed. Presently
he came to a place where a number of men were at
work loosening some large rocks, and one among the
workmen was stooping down looking for something
very eagerly ; Jem ran up, and asked if he could help
him. " Yes," said the man, " you can ; I've just dropped
among this heap of rubbish a fine piece of crystal that
I got to-day." " What kind of a looking thing is it ?"
said Jem. " White, and like glass," said the man, and
went on working while Jem looked very carefully over
the heap of rubbish for a great while. " Come," said
the man, " it's gone for ever ; don't trouble yourself any
more, my boy." '' It's no trouble ; 111 look a little longer;
we'll not give it up so soon," said Jem ; and after he
had looked a little longer, he found the piece of crystal.
" Thank'e," said the man, " you are a fine little indus-
trious fellow." Jem, encouraged by the tone of voice
in which the man spoke this, ventured to ask him the
same questions which he asked the old woman. " One
good turn deserves another," said the man ; " we are
going to dinner just now, and shall leave off work wait
for me here, and I'll make it Avorth your w T hile^"

Jem waited ; and as he was very attentively observ-
ing how the workmen went on with their work, he
heard somebody near him give a great yawn, and turn-
ing round, he saw stretched upon grass beside the river
a boy about his own age, who he knew very well went
in the village of Ashton by the name of Lazy Lawrence ;
a name which he most justly deserved, for he never did
any thing from morning to night ; he neither worked
nor played, but sauntered or lounged about restless and
yawning. His father was an alehouse-keeper, and be-
ing generally drunk, could take no care of his son ; so
that Lazy Lawrence grew every day worse and worse.


However, some of the neighbours said that he was a
good-natured poor fellow enough, and would never do
any one harm but himself; while others, who were
wiser, often shook .their heads, and told him that idle-
ness was the root of all evil.

" What, Lawrence !'' cried Jem to him, when he saw
him lying upon the grass, " what, are you asleep 1"
"Not quite." "Are you awake?" "Not quite."
" What are you doing there ?" " Nothing." " What
are you thinking of]" "Nothing." "What makes
you lie there V " I don't know because I can't find
anybody to play with me to-day will you come and
play ?" " No, I can't ; I'm busy." " Busy !" cried
Lawrence, stretching himself, " you are always busy
I would not be you for the world, to have so much to
do always." " And I," said Jem, laughing, " would not
be you for the world, to have nothing to do." So they
parted, for the workman just then called Jem to follow
him. He took him home to his own house, and showed
him a parcel of fossils which he had gathered, he said,
on purpose to seU, but had never had time yet to sort
them. He set about it, however, now ; and having
picked out those which he judged to be the best, he put
them into a small basket, and gave them to Jem to sell,
upon condition that he should bring him half of what he
got. Jem, pleased to be employed, was retdy to agree
to what the man proposed, provided his mother had no
objection to it. When he went home to dinner, he told
his mother his scheme, and she smiled and said he
might do as he pleased, for she was not afraid of his
being from home. " You are not an idle boy," said she,
" so there is little danger of your getting into any mis-

Accordingly Jem that evening took his stand with
his little basket upon the bank of the river, just at the
place where people land from a ferryboat, and where the
walk turns to the wells, where numbers of people perpet-
ually pass to drink the waters. He chose his place well,
and waited almost all evening, offering his fossils with
great assiduity to every passenger ; but not one person
bought any. " Holloa !" cried some sailors who had just
rowed a boat to land, " bear a hand here, will you, my little
fellow ! and carry these parcels for us into yonder house."
Jem ran down immediately for the parcels, and did what
he was asked to do so quickly, and with so much good will,
that the master of the boat took notice of him, and when



he was going away, stopped to ask him what he had got
in his little basket ; and when he saw that they were
fossils, he immediately told Jem to foUow him, for that
he was going to carry some shells Jie had brought from
abroad to a lady in the neighbourhood who was making
a grotto. " She will very likely buy your stones into
the bargain ; come along, my lad, we can but try."

The lady lived but a very little way off, so that they
were soon at her house. She was alone in her parlour,
and was sorting a bundle of feathers of different colours ;
they lay on a sheet of pasteboard upon a window-seat,
and it happened that as the sailor was bustling round
the table to show off his shells, he knocked down the
sheet of pasteboard, and scattered all the feathers.

The lady looked very sorry, which Jem observing,
he took the opportunity, while she was busy looking
over the sailor's bag of shells, to gather together all
the feathers, and sort them according to their different
colours, as he had seen them sorted when he first came
into the room.

"Where is the little boy you brought with you? I
thought I saw him here just now." " And here I am,
ma'am," cried Jem, creeping from under the table with
some few remaining feathers which he had picked from
the carpet " I thought," added he, pointing to the
others, " I had better be doing something than standing

Online LibraryMaria EdgeworthThe parent's assistant; or, Stories for children → online text (page 1 of 41)