At the Central Primary
THE Central Primary was a wooden building that had once been the Colored Baptist Church. The Boy never knew why it had changed its estate. Either the colored Baptists had prospered and builded a more sumptuous tabernacle, or the mortgage had been foreclosed, and deprived them of any. But for as long as he could remember, the big building beside the public square had been the portal to education, where he would have to go when he was six years old. He had been taken once to visit the school, arrayed in absurdly short ‘short-pants,’ the pocket flaps of which were a vain show and led nowhere. This so pleased the boys when they discovered it, that they celebrated the fact by filling the pseudo-pockets with stubs of slate pencils which fell through on the Boy’s shoes. But he did not mind. He gathered that it was part of the ceremony of School, and looked eagerly forward to the day when he would don the toga virilis.
And sure enough, one bright September morn, having attained the legal age, he set out for the desecrated church, in high hopes and a kind of fever of anticipation, because no one in that school, teacher or pupil, realized how very much he already knew, and they were in for a big surprise. He could read and spell and write, or at least ‘print’; and so, although no one was aware of it, he was going to school primarily to display the stores of knowledge already accumulated. This thought filled the inside of him with a warm glow of expectation, which he has felt sometimes since, and which the hand of Fate has dampened and extinguished as effectually as it did in this earliest instance he remembers.
Little had been done to the church to fit it for a schoolhouse. The pews had been taken out and replaced by short benches, divided by broad arms into two seats, like those in the help-yourself lunchrooms. The old gallery where the choir used to sit was still in place, and the dark stairway that led to it was used now only as an oubliette for the confinement of the more dangerous lawbreakers among the pupils. The bell that formerly rang only on Sundays now enlarged its labors to a five-day week, sounding at eight, eight-thirty, and eight-forty-five; again at ten-thirty for recess, and at the end, fifteen minutes later. The morning session ended at twelve, without bell, book, or candle. Contrary to the laws of physics, less energy was required to stop a session than to set it in motion. After dinner, the bell rang at one and one-thirty, and for all whose record was spotless, the day ended at half-past three. Others stayed after school, the incident ceremony being called ‘taking your name.’ Thus was enacted each afternoon a miniature replica of the Day of Judgment, so graphically described in the Book of Revelation when the Heavens were rolled up like a scroll.
On the rostrum stood, this first morning, a teacher with curls, who plays the part of Fate in the Boy’s tragedy. Her name was Nora McClay. Assigned to one of the seats with broad arms, the Boy found beneath the arm a small cubbyhole in which were to be kept what the social economists call the implements of production. The teacher ordained and authorized the purchase of these implements — a slate, a slatepencil, and a primer. The slate which the Boy’s parents could afford was the proletarian one — a square of thin black stone framed in wood, the frame bound with a strip of red flannel by means of what looked like a black shoestring, not so much for ornament as to enable it to live up to its name of ‘Victor Noiseless.’ Attached to the slate by a string was a small sponge. Slate-pencils were of two kinds — soapstone, which were soft and never sharp, and regular slate, which had fine points and sometimes came covered for half their length with paper gay with the Stars and Stripes. There was also a more costly and aristocratic slate called a book-slate, having four to eight leaves, of black silica, which could be written on with a slate-pencil and rubbed out. Many of the wealthier pupils had this Persian apparatus, which gave the Boy some heartburnings and early introduced class distinctions into his life.
But it was the primer which dashed the Boy’s hopes and dreams of triumph, and turned them to ashes in his mouth. It was a small, thin, blue book, and its official name was McGuffey’s Primary Reader. To his horror and dismay, he discovered on looking it over the first evening that it was written in an unknown alphabet. All, all were gone, the old familiar faces. Here and there was a recognizable letter, but every word contained some uncouth, obscene character that rendered it unintelligible. This book was one of the educational fads of that time, an attempt to teach children to read phonetically. It had been prescribed by the Board of Education, and it had to be taught, even to those who were so unfortunate as to have already learned to read before coming to school.
An alphabet had been designed with diabolical ingenuity, which was supposed to represent the sound of the spoken letter. Th as a diphthong was a character something like the AngloSaxon symbol for the same sound — though of course the Boy did not know that. C soft had a tiny s cunningly concealed in its insides, while C hard was similarly equipped with a k. Soft G had a small j depending from its lower lip. Wh as in ‘ who ‘ and ‘when’ was a monogram of the two letters, and ai, ae, and ou were disfigured like Siamese twins, with ignominious ligatures and bands that deformed them in the Boy’s eyes like monstrous growths on human beings. Not only was his dear and familiar alphabet made into a strange and grotesque thing, but this Cubist alphabet was expanded to include as many symbols as Mr. McGuffey supposed there were sounds in the English language. More than that, the socalled silent letters were printed in light-faced type, utterly ruining the physiognomy of the word. There were other complexities and vexations which the Boy has now forgotten. He has not set eyes on that accursed book for forty-eight years.
Nor did spelling escape the hands of the vandals. The Boy rather fancied himself a speller. To him the printed word was a picture. It did not look right if a single letter was altered or missing. In the vision of his coming triumph, spelling had loomed large. But the new learning did not include spelling. One did not spell; one ‘sounded.’ The curly-haired teacher commanded, ‘Sound dog’; and the intelligentsia went through something like this: ‘duh-awe-guh.’ When you spelled the word in this new fashion, you were supposed to have pronounced it, like a movie film of the word run very slowly.
The Boy could have wept, and, in fact, did weep. Not only were his dearly bought accomplishments rendered of no avail, but the alphabet, instead of being one of the verities acquired for a lifetime, was a transient and mutable thing. How many alphabets was one supposed to learn to keep up with this mysterious something called reading! Was nothing permanent — not even ABC? The Boy felt, as so many of us have since the war, that a lifetime of laboriously acquired experience was suddenly rendered useless by a new era.
Years afterward, in the course of his work as an advertising man, the Boy came across an old metal-worker who was strongly prejudiced against the tar and composition roofs that were then beginning to be advertised. ‘I don’t hold with these new-fangled roofings,’ he averred. ‘I believe in covering roofs with tin, as God intended they should be.’ To the Boy the alphabet as he had learned it had the same inviolable character that roofs had.
That little book had other vagaries. The world that it revealed was as unfamiliar as its typography. On the very first page, after the new characters began to have a meaning to the Boy, he read this text: —
‘Is it an ox?’
‘It is an ox.’
‘Is it my ox?’
‘It is my ox.’
‘Go on, ox, do go on.’
At the top of this page was the picture of an animal that even a cursory inspection showed was a cow. True, the boy had heard of oxen. They had them in the Bible. But he had never seen one — and certainly never owned one. To him an ox was as strange as the blood-sweating behemoth. The only part of this lesson that roused enthusiasm was the last line.
It was like that all through the book. There was a man with a cart, a high cart, with two huge wheels, drawn by a horse which wore a great saddle on its back. The man had on some sort of basque. But every day farmers drove past the house where the Boy lived, riding in green lumber-wagons, drawn by two horses, and they wore coats like the Boy’s father, and had their pants tucked in their boots. The man with the cart was no more related to everyday life than the circus clown with the calico pony.
The boys in this book bore such names as Hugh and Miles, and they were fond of saying ‘Ah’ when they began to speak, which, it will be remembered, was the favorite expletive of Rollo’s friend Jonas. In the Boy’s circle there was an Art and a Sanny; but Arthur and Alexander were barred from primers by their length, and Art and Sanny by their utterly improper colloquialism. And ‘Ah’ was a shibboleth.
By a triumph of ingenuity that should earn it a place in Miss Wells’s Whimsical Anthology, McGuffey’s primer was written entirely in words of one syllable. By consulting Codex A supra, it will be seen that the naïve dialogue about the ox is narrated not only with words of one syllable, but with syllables of two letters. As the book progresses the words get longer and harder, without abandoning the monosyllabic form, until they attain such heights as ‘ bough ‘ and ‘straight’ and ‘through.’ The Boy knew many words of two syllables, and even three, that were easier than these; but McGuffey was joined to his idols. The last lesson told of a rose, a blush rose, which of course had its monitory attendant thorn. The word ‘thorn’ in the bastard text of McGuffey was a weird vocable. Decision wavered for a time as to whether it was a thorn or a throne the rose had. In the Boy’s life roses were almost as rare as oxen.
Despite heart-burnings, the orthoëpic alphabet did not detain him long. He was, as the actors say, a quick study. Under the tutelage of the teacher with the ringlets, whose Scotch name suggested affinity at least with the Clan McGuffey, the Boy learned the new text, and then read the thin, blue book through from ox to thorn. Having thus again demonstrated his superiority and won back a portion of the self-esteem that had been dashed by the rejection of his home-grown A B C’s, he was disposed to rest on his laurels and wait for official recognition of his prowess. But his only reward was to sit with his hands folded and wait until the rest of the class was ready to recite. And while he waited, his thoughts, with some retrospective assistance, ran about like this: School was a delusion and a snare. Instead of being a place where education was pursued with delight, where one went from triumph to triumph amid the plaudits of the multitude, where one continued the adventure of learning with growing excitement and pleasure, it was really a dull place where character was formed by tribulation and disappointment. Its purpose appeared to be discipline rather than education. The important thing was to obey the rules. Falling ahead seemed as reprehensible as falling behind. The Shakespearean tradition of the schoolboy creeping like a snail unwillingly to school was sedulously upheld.
There is reason to believe that, if one could have read the minds of the adult world at that period, some such conception would have been found in them. They would have agreed that the Boy’s arraignment was a true bill. They would have had grave doubts about any school that its victims found pleasant. Education was a painful process, and its painfulness was a part of the education. Not one of those grown-ups — teacher, superintendent, board of education, or parents — could foresee the time which now is, when school is the supreme adventure of childhood, and when, as I am credibly informed, children resort to the same subterfuges to avoid being kept away from school that they once practised to escape going. The story of Tom Sawyer’s hypothetical toothache must seem as legendary to the modern child as the account of William Tell and the apple to a walking delegate.
The Slate served no better than the Book, but for the opposite reason. Its chief function was to aid in acquiring knowledge of a mystery called ‘Numbers,’ which bore no relation to the fourth book of Moses, but was merely a euphemism for that hard word ‘arithmetic.’ Numbers consisted of a long series of tables, which, if done neatly, made an orderly arrangement on the slate, which was very gratifying. But neatness was not enough. Correctness was also a desideratum. So the pleasure of creating an artistic format was marred by the necessity of having the answers right. There was also the matter of language. The tables must be read according to formula. ‘One plus one equals two. One minus one equals ought. One times one equals one. One divided by one equals one.’ Each of these permutations was carried to twelve, though why twelve instead of ten, which seems the logical stopping-place, the Boy never learned. The outposts of the mathematical world, at least in the Central Primary, were established at the twelfth milestone.
After the tables came examples. Examples were such bits of anecdote as, ‘If a man can saw twelve cords of wood in seven days, how much wood can he saw in one day?' The issue was clouded for the Boy by a vision of Bud Gash, who sometimes sawed the paternal wood, and who could not possibly have sawed twelve cords in seven days. The example best remembered of all was the one which inquired, ‘If a stick and a half of candy cost a cent and a half a stick, how much will one stick cost?’ which was n’t a school example at all, but a catch propounded by some jocose elder outside jurisdiction. They did not have such amusing diversions at school.
Numbers was a greater trial than even Mr. McGu ff’ey’s misbegotten alphabet. The Boy, as the phrase goes, had no head for figures. The phrase is all wrong, however. He had a head for figures. He delighted to make them, He liked to carry the fail of the seven below the line, and close up the four at the top the way it was done in print. What he hated was to figure with figures— add, subtract, multiply. He had, I fear, a finite mind. A long column to be added gave him a feeling of faintness, almost nausea, like that with which later he tried to grasp the idea of time and space. He did not at that early hour have the consolation of Thackeray’s wise conclusion, who felt less chagrin at his lack of mathematical proficiency when he learned that machines could add and multiply. In the course of time the Boy’s hearing failed, and he became deafer and deafer, but he never, never, became an adder.
The slate was the innocent instrument of his greatest triumph and greatest humiliation. One day the teacher instructed the class to copy its lesson upon its respective slates. The lesson for the day concerned the doings, or perhaps the disposition, of a certain dog bearing the unorthodox name of Tray, a name not bestowed on dogs outside of primers. What the word ‘copy’ meant to the Boy, memory fails to register; but what he did was this. He construed it literally and reproduced the page with the fidelity of a Chinaman duplicating a patched coat. Perhaps he knew that he was exceeding expectations, or perhaps he really thought that the teacher wanted a holographic facsimile. There were so many puzzling things about the practices of school. At any rate, he made that page, with the folio number at the upper right-hand corner, the running head in Italic caps, a crinkly rule under it; then a picture of the kennel, with Tray lying half in and half out; on either side a neat column of words to spell, and underneath ‘ Lesson VII,’ the title, and the chaste and sober narrative of some incident in Tray’s history. With a carefully sharpened slate-pencil he reproduced the McGuffey characters, the silent letters in lighter line, and when the call came for results, flushed and excited, he silently laid his work before the teacher, who promptly told him to take it home and show it to his father and mother.
It was all of a piece with the baffled and confused state of mind that school produced in him, that he went without being clear whether it was reward or punishment. He trotted along as fast as his legs could carry him, holding the slate at arm’s length so as not to smudge it, now swelling with pride as he viewed his masterpiece, and now overcome by misgivings that he had again been too enterprising for a conservative age. The event as it appears to recollection was all to the good. Mother admired and praised without stint, and stood the slate carefully on the shelf beside the clock to await father’s homecoming. What a pity that such an inspiration should have been confided to so perishable a palimpsest as the slate, washed off next day with a sponge, and almost as soon from the memory of the high Olympians! But the Boy, too, like Tray, had had his day.
And now comes his degradation. The G. A. R. parade passed the schoolhouse exactly at recess time, and the Boy followed the band until it was too late to return before the last bell, and then followed it all the way. His confederates were a colored boy whose father was a barber, and a Jewish boy whose father was a tobacconist. The word ‘tobacconist’ is used intentionally, for the emporium of Stremmel and Myers was no ordinary cigar store. It had what the Boy would have called an OldWorld air, if he had ever heard of such a thing, with its wooden pails of fine-cut displayed in rows along the counter, and in the window a log cabin most ingeniously built with cigars. It was one of the show places on Main Street, like the model steamship in the window of the emigrant ticket agency, and was religiously visited on those Sunday afternoons when one was allowed to go downtown and look in the windows.
There was something especially heinous in walking out of the schoolyard at recess and not coming back. It was what is now known to a militaristic generation as A.W.O.L. Authority was evidently hard put to find a punishment to fit the crime. The penalty imposed was to remain after school one hour each day until one had written, ‘ I ran away,’ one thousand times on one’s slate — a form of punishment reminiscent of mediæval religious orders. Memory insists that the medium used was writing, and not ‘printing’; but the cursive hand of that age was not a facile medium, and the days seemed to stretch ahead without end. One of the trio, probably the tobacconist’s heir, announced that he was going to devote his period of penal servitude to improving his penmanship; but this virtuous resolve did not apparently soften the heart of Authority. The Boy made no propitiatory libations, but set himself doggedly to execute his task, turning in his tale each day to be counted and credited before he could go home. The twenty years Monte Cristo spent in the Château d’If were as a short winter’s day beside the time it took the Boy to complete his sentence, or, more accurately, sentences. But it must have been finished because all things came to an end in time, even the school-year.
The following year the Boy was promoted. The B class became the A class, and moved across the room and sat in the seats of the mighty. Not all, however. There was a little classmate whose brain was so slow that one copy of a book was not enough to teach her its contents. She had been compelled to remain behind in the B class, and repeat her progress through McGuffey’s Primer. Swollen with pride at his own recent advancement, the Boy, with his new Monroe’s First Reader under his arm, one day taunted the backward one: ‘O Abbie, you in that old primer yet?’ And Abbie, true to type, utterly oblivious of the aspersion that had been cast upon her, proudly displayed a brand-new copy of the primer, and replied, ‘No, I got a new one.’
So far as interest goes, Monroe had little on McGuffey. The narratives concerned the adventures of two colorloss individuals named John and Kate, who led uninspired lives. They too seemed to live in a world that existed only in schoolbooks. At one place you read that they caught prawns in the pools by the sea. The Boy was not ignorant of the fauna of Western Illinois. He had caught bull-cats in Spoon River, and drowned out gophers on the prairies around the town; but the only prawn he had ever heard of was the species Monroe. He had a faint idea that they were something you played chess with. He did not play chess, but he played with the chessmen, and the chessmen had little chess boys, which were of course the black ones, and chess girls, which were white, and the grownup world called them prawns. But finding them in pools seemed to obtain only in schoolbooks.
Nevertheless the First Reader had one quality that atoned for all shortcomings, and makes it stand out in memory as a glorious thing; for it was printed with the orthodox alphabet the Boy had learned from his building blocks, and the McGuffey orthoëpic characters passed from memory like a fevered dream. Never again did they darken his mental door. The original alphabet, the one he learned first, was now sufficient for all the reading he would ever do. That year of McGuffey was just so much lost out of his life; and when in time he tackled Greek, and later Anglo-Saxon, the old feeling came back: he remembered that he had learned harder things in his youth. It was just another form of McGuffeyism.
No sooner had reading become fairly easy and scarcely a study at all, when he discovered that it was not really an end, but a means to an end. By the exercise of it one learned other things.
One of the other things was geography. Geography was a large, thin, flat book, the largest of the schoolbooks, and its unstandard size made it difficult to carry in conjunction with the other books. It was garnished with a blue checked-gingham slip-cover, fashioned by mother, to protect it unspotted from the world, in the vain hope that it might descend to successive members of one large family; but when at the end of the course the cover was removed, the contrast between the outside and the inside of the book was startling. It was not what the old book-dealers describe as good second-hand condition.
The outstanding wonder of geography was maps. The text had little to offer so stimulating to the imagination. They gave the Boy a new field for speculation, and added greatly to the store of mental resources out of which he fashioned amusements and devices for mitigating the shortcomings of deafness.
Standing first in the book was a map of the world stretched out on an oblong rectangle, wherein Greenland was apparently the largest body of land. The fine type down in the corner said it was ‘The World on Mercator’s Projection’; but fine type in schoolbooks was always addressed to teachers and other grownups. Meanwhile here was Mercator’s world, flat as a table, and square at the corners. The use of globes was not taught at the Central Primary. Indeed, the school did not possess one. The geography contradicted Mercator and insisted the world was round. There was also other evidence. A scrap of rhyme lingered in the Boy’s memory from pre-school days, which exclaimed,
And hung on nothing in the air.
Nevertheless the book seemed admirably adapted to the needs of that complaisant teacher, who agreed to teach it round or flat as the school board demanded.
The Boy’s problem (and after fifty years still a problem) was to establish a working relation between himself and the universe; a difficult job when that universe did not come apparently any closer to him than the outlines of the State of Illinois. The point where he stood was for him the centre of the world, while from Mercator the geography advanced toward him by degrees, — first hemispheres, then continents, and then countries, the United States, his own State — but no further. It was an elementary book, which did not get down to such details as where one lived. It was elementary at the wrong end. For surely the elementary fact of existence was that one lived in Galesburg, Knox County, Illinois. Even that was a generalization. One lived in a little white house in Monmouth Road. And long before he heard the word geography the Boy had begun his own map, from his own centre, reaching outward vaguely toward the universe.
First, there came the Yard, evidently a much bigger place than the world as Mercator made it, and much fuller of interesting things; bounded on one side by a picket fence, with a gate, on the flat-topped posts of which the Boy sat and regarded the rest of the world; and then the three hard maples, every limb of which he knew like the fingers of his hand; the two apple trees, the big one and the little one; the sweet-brier rose at the corner of the house, and the stonecrop — always called butter-andeggs — growing beside the bricks of the foundation as far as the cellar door. At the back a broad highway ran straight through a Sherwood Forest of currant bushes, to an open grassplot in the far corner, where stood the swing. A magnificent estate, truly, covering nearly an eighth of an acre. The Boy knew every landmark and could to-day draw a fairly accurate topographical map of the first bit of the earth’s surface with which he became acquainted.
Outside the Yard one went two ways, down to the Bridge, and up to the Corner. Obviously there was only one bridge and one corner. At the Corner one looked down five streets, because of the flatiron that had been taken out of one block. The most interesting street to look down was Academy Street, where one could see Noah’s Ark standing boldly, with its great weathered gable resting on the street. It was exactly the shape of the toy one, but not so brightly colored. He fancied the paint must have been washed off by the long rain. He was still, it should be understood, in the Golden Age of legend. Long before Geography he learned that Noah’s Ark was really an incredibly overgrown hay barn, a Somebody’s Folly, built no doubt to hold food for the lean kine during seven years of famine.
At the Corner was the Octagon House. It belonged to Mr. Dormer. Some houses had windows named after him, but Mr. Dormer’s house had no dormer window. Its mysterious form gave one a thrill. One speculated as to the shapes of the rooms inside. They must have been laid out the way mother cut the pie. But the Boy never went inside.
Later he went as far as the Next Corner. After that came Hale’s Corner, where one turned and went diagonally through the Park. For this was the Roman Road. It led Down Town. Its landmarks were far older and better established than anything in the geography. You came out of the Park into Broad Street, where the Central Primary stood, and just ahead was the Public Square. In the centre of the square stood the Liberty Pole. It was the Umbilicus.
On one side of the square was E. F. Thomas Corner. It was the first yearnings of a department store. It seemed to confirm the Boy’s terminology; that is, if it was right to assume that Mr. Thomas had a corner. Sign painters then as now had no apostrophes in their kits. On the other hand, he might be Mr. Corner.
This then was the known world which the Boy attempted to join up with a green map in the book called Illinois. And in the course of time I suppose he did join it up, with the aid of advanced geography, which went as far as counties, with the further help of a map of Knox County which hung in father’s office, with the tiers of townships running across it, and pictures of the courthouse, the jail, the college, and other prominent buildings, in the margins.
By great good fortune Illinois in the geography was green, and it was green in the world also, as the Boy knew from such bits of it as he saw just outside the town. But when he was taken across the Mississippi to visit his Uncle Charlie in Algona, the first summer after his introduction to Monteith’s Geography, he was greatly disturbed to find that Iowa was green, too, and not pink as shown in the book. After that he doubted whether China was really yellow. It had seemed so appropriate, because the book said it was inhabited by the yellow race. In time he came to understand that the pleasant custom of distinguishing states and countries by colors that were not really true was another idiosyncrasy like the McGuffey alphabet.
For a time maps superseded the alphabet in absorbing interest. The Boy made maps of the Yard, of the schoolroom, and imaginary maps of places that existed only in dreams. He invented a game, which was played with a piece of chalk on the barn floor. He drew a large and well-equipped farm, such as would have delighted the heart of the editor of an agricultural journal, so well furnished was it with barns, and cow-sheds, and pigsties, and chicken-runs. On this farm life was lived in a plane of two dimensions. The stalls for the horses, for instance, were two short chalk marks, and the horse itself was a black-eyed bean. Other cereals served as other live-stock, such as popcorn for chickens, and black beans for pigs, while scarlet runners made lovely cows and lima beans were big-hoofed draft horses. Human beings were short lengths of elder twigs, with a pin run through the pith. To make them stand you stuck the pin in the floor, and by sticking the pin through a bean and then in the floor, the man rode his horse.
This game could be left in abeyance, like chess, to be resumed as chance might offer, as on rainy days. The variations were infinite. A creek was drawn flowing through the pasture where the leguminous cows grazed, and was bridged by a small strip of curved strawberry box, and over this the road was drawn. A boat was a pea-pod, carefully opened on the proper edge, and held open by the thwarts. A circus offered an even more exciting opportunity for inventions and discoveries. Can you imagine a better hippopotamus than what the refined know as a Brazil nut, but which the Boy called ‘nigger toe’? The deer family were hazel-nuts of various sizes, and peanuts, of course, were camels and dromedaries. A butternut with its bark on made an admirable elephant.
While all such were a by-product and had nothing to do with education, they did show that even knowledge could be made useful in the serious business of life. Another great blessing that geography brought was the means it furnished of getting through the long dull hours of school. Not that the Boy was ‘good at’ geography. He was not good at any of his studies in the orthodox sense. Instead of learning to ‘bound Illinois,’ or ‘name the principal rivers,’ he was off on strange journeys of his own to pink and canary-colored countries, exploring them with the diligence of a Marco Polo or Theodore Roosevelt — countries in which he was perhaps the first white visitor. He spent hours at this fascinating pursuit, and to this day the sight of a map, especially of the pale and empty maps of a school geography, brings back the hot schoolroom, with its prevailing odor of chalk dust, and a small boy bending absorbed over his book, giving a counterfeit presentment of a pupil studying his lesson, while really surveying the world from China to Peru, figuring out the best water route from Burlington, Iowa, to Yang-tse-Kiang, or wondering whether he would better climb the Himalayas or go round.
The intense interest in maps left an impression on his mind second only to that of the alphabet. It gave him a lifelong interest in the ground plan of things. Once he had got his own tiny cosmos safely located in relation to the universe, he never afterward lost his sense of location or direction. A valuable acquisition for a deaf man, dependent on his own initiative to find his way about in the world! For in the course of time the Boy became a traveler of sorts, a real traveler, and always in strange places his recourse was to maps — countries or cities, the delightful blue-covered Bartholomew’s road maps of England and the equally delightful Cartes Taride of France; and then the plans and diagrams of museums, art galleries, cathedrals, and castles. They leave him independent of vergers, guides, and custodians, whose patter, even if it were illuminating or understandable, he could not have heard.
Thus he has found his way over much of Europe, in motor-car and on foot, without asking questions and feeling rarely independent and self-contained. Only the other day he sat about in the Roman Forum, on the ends of broken columns, for the better part of a week, with the best obtainable maps and plans spread out on his lap, and made a delightful Roman holiday of tracing and identifying the heaped-up débris of super-imposed civilizations. And he remembers with what satisfaction he bought off for a two-franc piece the old soldier who pretends to show St.Michel-in-Peril-of-the-Sea, and spent the entire day wandering back and forth through the magnificent salles of that old abbey, with Paul Gout’s admirable work in his hand, dodging behind a pillar whenever a new troup of tourists went through, and fitting the plans in the book to the actual structure, until he felt as if he had really seen at least one public monument. Nor did he fail to learn the inevitable lesson: that no excursion on the earth’s surface quite equals the delectable anticipatory one on the map.
Geography has flowered into an amiable hobby, a love of old maps for their own sake, — the older the better, — like the love of old books. He likes his maps drawn without too much allegiance to theodolite and sextant, maps in which the old cartographers’ imaginations found full play, where terra incognita is more interesting than terra cognita, with beasts and fish and ships all out of scale, and the four winds blowing with puffed-out cheeks from the corners.
And so the Central Primary, without giving him much of what may be called formal education, did its share toward equipping him with two permanent interests — the alphabet and maps; and one aversion — arithmetic. The Books triumphed over the Slate.