Your United States eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 139 pages of information about Your United States.

VII

EDUCATION AND ART

I had my first glimpses of education in America from the purser of an illustrious liner, who affirmed the existence of a dog—­in fact, his own dog—­so highly educated that he habitually followed and understood human conversations, and that in order to keep secrets from the animal it was necessary to spell out the keyword of a sentence instead of pronouncing it.  After this I seemed somehow to be prepared for the American infant who, when her parents discomfited her just curiosity by the same mean adult dodge of spelling words, walked angrily out of the room with the protest:  “There’s too blank much education in this house for me!” Nevertheless, she proudly and bravely set herself to learn to spell; whereupon her parents descended to even worse depths of baseness, and in her presence would actually whisper in each other’s ear.  She merely inquired, with grimness:  “What’s the good of being educated, anyway?  First you spell words, and when I can spell then you go and whisper!” And received no adequate answer, naturally.

This captivating creature, whose society I enjoyed at frequent intervals throughout my stay in America, was a mirror in which I saw the whole American race of children—­their independence, their self-confidence, their adorable charm, and their neat sauciness.  “What is father?” she asked one day.  Now her father happened to be one of the foremost humorists in the United States; she was baldly informed that he was a humorist.  “What is a humorist?” she went on, ruthlessly, and learned that a humorist was a person who wrote funny things to make people laugh.  “Well,” she said, “I don’t honestly think he’s very funny at home.”  It was naught to her that humorists are not paid to be funny at home, and that in truth they never under any circumstances are very funny at home.  She just hurled her father from his niche—­and then went forth and boasted of him as a unique peculiarity in fathers, as an unrivaled ornament of her career on earth; for no other child in the vicinity had a professional humorist for parent.  Her gestures and accent typified for me the general attitude of youngest America, in process of education, toward the older generation:  an astonishing, amusing, exquisite, incomprehensible mixture of affection, admiration, trust, and rather casual tolerating scorn.  The children of most countries display a similar phenomenon, but in America the phenomenon is more acute and disconcerting than elsewhere.

One noon, in perfect autumn weather, I was walking down the main road of a residential suburb, and observing the fragile-wheeled station-wagons, and the ice-wagons enormously labeled “DANGER” (perhaps by the gastric experts of the medical faculty), and the Colonial-style dwellings, and the “tinder” boarding-houses, and the towering boot-shine stands, and the roast-chestnut emporia, and the gasometers

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Your United States from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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