William Hawley Smith.

Walks abroad and talks about them online

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fashion, only being more blase than ever in her case.

Indeed, it is held by many of the great teachers of
this glorious land of ours that the "keep-still" method
of treating these fearsome females works better than any-
thing else that they have ever tried. It is an exceedingly
wearying thing, they claim, to beat the air ; and many a
prize-fighter has been eventually "knocked out" by an
antagonist who was no where near as hard a hitter as him-
self, but who knew enough to keep out of the way till the
giant was winded, and who then got in his Vv'ork.

And so, in general, the answer on this line would be,
keep out of the bad boy's mother's way when she takes a
hand in the game. Say nothing to her. Let her talk till
she is tired, and if she gives out, ask her if she hasn't
something more on her mind !

In a word, shake the red rag of your own silence in
her face, and dodge her by bending more closely than
ever over whatever you are ostensibly working at when
she "charges," and ten chances to one she will break
down and cry inside of five minutes ; and when she does
that, she is yours to escort to the door !

To be sure, such a method seems to me to be abom-
inably mean, but there is an old maxim that says some-
thing about fighting the devil with fire, and the above
comes as near that as it is possible to attain in these pre-
mises. So I note it as 07ie of the things that might be
done when you have a case of the " involution of the bad
boy's mother," and it is a way that zvorks^ as many a
teacher can testify.

However, this is only what " flesh and blood " would
do, and I have mentioned it because that is what my walk-
ing companion asked advice about.



THE BAD BOY'S MOTHER. 105

As to what the spirit would do, that is another ques-
tion.

And it is the spirit that ought to handle these cases,
and which is fully capable of doing so without any advice
from me or anybody else. Keep the flesh and blood of
yourself in the background, your spirit holding it by the
collar, as if it were an angry dog bristling for a fight (and
that is what it is, for the most part), and let your soul
come to the front and take control of things, and your
troubles on this count will be vvell nigh ended ere they are
fairly begun.

It was a wise man who said, "A soft answer turneth
away wrath, but grievous words stir up strife."

And do not forget that, in many cases (my experience
is in a majority of cases), the bad boy's mother has a side
to her suit that you can well afford to listen to and con-
sider. It may be hard for you to take a lesson at her
hands, but many a teacher has grown exceeding wise on
such instruction.

As a rule, the mother knows her boy far better than
you do, and a thousand chances to one she has more at
stake in him than you possibly can have.

And, besides this, as many schools are now organized,
on the ultra-graded plan, the probabilities are not a few
that the complaining witness has good grounds for her
"involution" in the case.

If her boy is slow in some particular branch of study,
and for this cause has been kept back in other studies in
which he is bright (and thousands of boys, both good and
bad, have been dealt with in this way), and for this reason
he has become nettled and aggravated until he has turned
bad just to get even with his persecutors — if this is the
situation (and I suspect that such is the case much oftener
than the average teacher would willingly admit), then, if



lot) WALKS ABROAD.

the mother comes to plead for, or to demand equity and
justice for her offspring, hear her, I beseech you. Slie
has a right to be heard, and as God lives, she will be heard,
some day, whether you listen to her or not.

The school is for her boy, and not her boy for the
school, and if things are not this end to she has full cause
for "involution " till matters are set right.

But it is useless to extenuate. There is no end to the
subject. One could write about it till the crack of doom
and still the half would not be told. I think all that can
wisely be said about it is, '" make a distinction," and be
sure, every time, that the mother has everything that can
possibly conduce to the best interest and welfare of her
bad boy.

INCORRIGIBLES.

Another fellow-traveler writes: "To what extent
should the public school be made a reform school? or, in
other words, How long should the whole school suffer the
presence of a refractory or incorrigible pupil?"

And here again I must beg to reply that I should
" make a distinction."

If a pupil is zuholly incorrigible, I should say that the
public school should not be burdened with him for a
single moment; just as, if a pupil has the small-pox or the
diphtheria, he should at once be removed.

But the question is, is the pupil of this sort?

That is an item that should be well considered, and
very deliberately acted upon.

My own opinion, based upon my experience, is that
a very small percentage of those who are ordinarily
counted as bad boys in school are ''incorrigible."

I suppose there are boys of the lUterly bad sort ; but I
say, frankly, that 1 never yet met one who was wholly
that way !



THE BAD BOY'S MOTHER. 107

It is with me about this as it has been about meeting
villains such as we see depicted on the stage — the man
who gets a mortgage on the farm, and falls in love with
the sweet daughter, and then turns down the thumb
screws till the girl says yes, and her father falls headlong
into a desperate grave! I have seen all this played a
hundred times, and have often wondered that I have never
met one of these gifted villains in society; but, thus far,
not one of them has crossed my track, so far as I know.
They may have done so, but if they have I have failed to
recognize them.

I have seen a great mvLuy stupid people who did wrong,
and some very wicked ones who persisted in their evil
doing long after I thought they ought to stop; and I have
even seen some people who thought they were exceed-
ingly good, who have done things that seemed to me not
a little shady. Indeed, if I crowd the case far enough, I
am forced to acknowledge certain acts of my own, that,
according to some plumb lines, might be found some
degrees "out of true;" but, with all this on the wrong side
of the ledger, I am certain that I never met an "incor-
rigible ! "" I do not say that there are no such people, I
only insist that, in the distribution of prizes, such a one
has never fallen to my lot.

And yet I know that there are such people, and some-
times they are boys, for I remember the sad and awful
story of Jesse Pomeroy, the boy murderer, of Boston, who
took delight in cutting the throats of little girls, and I
suppose there are similar cases in other towns.

And if I had s/(r/i a boy in school, I firmly believe
that he ought not to remain therein a single day. And
boys (or girls) who are habitual thieves, or vicious, or
licentious, or insane, on any criminal line (for who can
believe otherwise than that all such people are unbalanced



108 WALKS ABROAD.

in mind?), all these should be eliminated from the public
school, hit these only.

The boy who is only mischievous, and who loves fun
better than he loves books, he should not be forced to go.
That is not what the school is for, to turn liim out.

To be sure he is a burden, but he is a burden to be
borne rather than thrown in the ditch. To dump him is
an easy way out of the trouble, for the time being, but it
is the coward's way, the lazy teacher's way, the shirk's
way, the sneak's way. It is not the way of the teacher
who is called of God to teach, and who believes in himself
as God's minister among the children!

Do you know that the great bulk of what we call
wickedness in this world is really stupidity?

I have a friend who once had a greater strain put upon
his integrity than he was able to stand up under, and the
result was he was forced to spend a year in the peniten-
tiary. He is a bright man, and he kept his eyes wide open
while undergoing this terrible ordeal. He has told me
some of the things he learned while in prison, and the
most impressive thing he has said to me is that more than
nine-tenths of all the convicts who are undergoing penal
servitude are men who are absolutely incapable of taking
care of themselves ! They are tramps — dependent, erratic,
cunning, half-made-up fellows, who are far weaker than
they are wicked, and in many cases more stupid than
either.

And I wonder if such is not much the situation
among the alleged bad boys of our schools. And is it
not true, too, that, for the most part, the bad boys that
bother us most are those that have no head for books?
And don't you begin to realize that there are ever so many
people in this world who have no head for books, though
they may have fair, yes, great abilities in other directions?



THE BAD BOrS MOTHER. 109

For instance, there is my gardener, who scarcely ever
reads a word, though he had a good fair chance to attend
school when a boy. He has no delight in books. I doubt
if he ever read a story in his life, and as for taking up
Tennyson, or holding his own in a Browning club — you
laugh !

But you ought to see the garden this man can make ;
the roses he can coax into bloom when my friend the
learned Professor of Botany has given them up ; the rad-
ishes he has ready for our table long before any of our
neighbors have them, and so on to the further end of the
garden.

And the delight he takes in all this is something that
it does one's soul good to see.

I did not know him in school, but if I could get at his
record there I strongly suspect that his deportment would
be much below lOO, and that he was counted a bad boy.
But I do not believe that he was an "incorrigible." Any-
how, he is far enough from that in his present place, and
something pretty severe would have to happen before I
should expel him from the position he now holds.

Is there a hint in this for you, my fellow-travelers, or'
for you who are looking on and seeing what we are saying
to each other ?

There are a good many things that happen in school
that it doesn't pay the teacher to see. Boys will be boys,
and girls, girls ; and children are not old folks. Thank
God they are not, and that they can not be made to be.
And as long as they are not malicious and criminal, my
notion is that it ought to be a "c'cry rare thing for one
of these little ones to perish out of the public schools.
Don't take their shortcomings and capers too seriously.
Remember when you — oh, but this is wormwood ; but
that herb makes a healthful, though a bitter draught!



no WALKS ABROAD.

Truly, it is only last week, as we were cleaning house,
that the woman who was going to the bottom and top of
everything to make all clean, knocked down a little, old
spool-box from an upper shelf in a closet, where it had
lain, undisturbed, for many and many a year. It fell open
as it struck the floor, and out rolled a heap of little notes,
all folded small, and written in the daintiest hand. From
the looks of the chirography, a very paragon of all the
feminine virtues wrote those pages.

And it was a lovely girl who penciled them, and as
good as she was lovely. She was very scholarly too. All
, these notes of hers are written in Latin. She was eigh-
teen at the time, and ought to have been above such
doings; and I know that she knew it was against the
rules to do as she did. She loved books, and stood at
the head of her class. And yet she wrote every one of
those notes to me, in school time, looking on her book all
the while as though she were studying with all her might;
and when she had written them, she folded them up small,
even as they all show to this day, and threw them across
three rows of seats to where I sat and caught them on the
fly!

I do not know where she is now. The last I heard of
her she was a matronly school ma'am, teaching in a high
school; and if, perchance, her eyes should fall upon these
lines, let her, if she be tempted to rid herself of some "in-
corrigible," remember this little package of time-stained
papers which she wrote and which I caught with eager-
ness and replied to with fervor, and all in spite of "the
rules! "

(In justice, let me say that this naughty girl wrote bet-
ter Latin than I did, when the correspondence began,
and that this fact increased my devotion to the study of
that language to such an extent that I am certain I learned



THE BAD BOY'S MOTHER. Ill

more Latin prose in writini^ notes to lier than from the
regular exercises.)

Nor were we two sinners above all others. How is it
\N\\.\\ yoji who read these lines? How many stones could
you throw at us if freedom from clandestine note-writing
were the measure of fitness for that sort of amusement?
I'm not saying that we did right, and yet — well, I learned
a good deal of Latin out of it all, and for some reason or
other I picked up all those bits of paper from off the
floor the other day, and put them back in the box again,
and the box on the shelf once more.

And if I should be asked now if I were sorry for
what I did so many years ago — well, what would you say
if the case were yours? What do you say about your own
similar escapades? Don't say that you had none such, for
if you have had interest enough in what I am writing to
read what I have written here, it is because you are " in
the same condemation."

And so let us deal with the bad children as well as
we can, remembering that out of just such a lot we came,
and see what a fine set of men and women we have made!

There is hope for humanity yet! Have we not prov-
ed it for ourselves, and is not the rule as good for the
future as for the past?

Of course I understand that things should be done
decently and in order in the school room, and that chil-
dren should be controlled and made to do the proper
thing, if the matter comes to an issue. But don't be too
fierce to force an issue.

There are ever so many things that will take care of
themselves if you will give them time, and Mede-and
Persian laws are out of place in the school-house.

Be patient, and don't get cross yourself. Keep your
temper, and hdld your flesh and blood in the background,



112 WALKS ABROAD.

with your soul to the fore, and you will find the way for
yourself which neither I nor any one else can ever point
out for you.

For, the fact is that no one can tell you how to deal,
either with bad boys or with bad boys' mothers. The
evolution of the one and the involution of the other are
things that you must work out for yourself. You may
get a hint here and there, but it must all fall back upon
yo?( at last.

And, more than that, you can never hit upon any
patent plan that will settle all cases of this kind for all
time and in the same way. In this, as in all else, the old
man's words, are true, when he says: " Now, understand
me well, there is no fruition of success, no matter how
great, but that, out of it, something shall arise to make a
still greater struggle necessary! "

That may not be a very restful sentence for a lazy
soul, but it is true, and especially so in dealing with the
evolution of bad boys and the involution of their mothers.



BOBN^'SnOIiTr 113



BORN "SHORT."

I wish you would stop a minute, right here, before we
go any further, and think out, honestly, just exactly what
it is ihdii y Oil can do, or perhaps better, what it is that you
do do poorer than you do anything else in the world. Or,
if that way of getting at what I am after is too galling to
your self-esteem, or pride, or egotism, or what you will,
all I ask is that you make a note of the thing you cant do,
and that you know so well you can't do that you don't try
to do it at all.

Now, please don't slur this over in a shiftless or lazy
(not to say lying) way, but look the thing squarely in the
face, for once in your life, and see what comes of it.
Don't try to deceive yourself into the idea that you do, or
can do, all things equally well. You know better ; and in-
asmuch as any admissions you may make here are only
" to yourself " and not " out loud," be honest, and out with
the bottom facts in the case, just for this once, at least.

[Pause here a full minute by the clock ! ]

Well, now if you are ready, we will go on.

You realize now, do you not, as a result of your re-
flections just made, that there are some places in yonr
make-up in which you are, as it were, born "short?"
(You know "on 'change" they say a man is " long" or
"short," according as he has on hand much or little of
any commodity that the market deals in.)

I say you find yourself " short " on certain counts ;
and not only so, but, when you come to think about it,
you find that you have always been so ! That is, you are



in WALKS! Mi no AD.

not only " short ' now, at one point or another, but, what-
ever your shortage is, it was born with you.

And that is what I mean when I say that you were
*' born short."

Just what that shortage is, in your particular case, 1
am not at all curious to know. That is a matter that per-
tains strictly to yourself, and cuts no figure in what I am
about to say. All I care for is to have you realize that
there '\s soinethitig (perhaps there are a good many things)
that you can't do, never could do, never can learn to do
with any degree of success, and that you will never even
try to do if you can have j'our own way about it.

Perhaps you cannot sing ; may be you cannot dance,
cannot paint, cannot draw, cannot spell ! cannot remember
dates ! cannot remember the fundamental principles of
of natural philosophy, or a hundred and one other com-
mon or curious things that some either people can do
easily enough, but which you kfiozv you cannot do — in
other words, which you were " born short " on.

Now I came across this somewhat curious fact the
other da\', during one of my " walks abroad," among my
own mental furnishings. I was strolling along through my
intellectual workshop, as it were, and taking a sort of in-
ventory of appliances and possible output, when I became
painfully aware of the real situation in my own case. I
found that there were certain things that I could do, and
certain other things that I could not do ; and that, for the
most part, what is now has always been so, so far as primal
ability is concerned.

Of course, I can do a good many things now that I
could not do once. Practice and perseverance, along cer-
tain lines, have yielded fruit that is worth while. But I
find that on whatever lines I was " born short," there has
been no progress that is worthy the name, even though I



/.'(//.' \ •• suDi: r." 115

may have striven hard to have it otherwise. 1 am not
ijoing to make you my father confessor, and own up, ri


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Online LibraryWilliam Hawley SmithWalks abroad and talks about them → online text (page 8 of 16)