To my son Grenville Arthur, and to his school-fellows at Winton House This little book is dedicated.
My dear boys,—When I was your age, there were no such children’s books as there are now. Those which we had were few and dull, and the pictures in them ugly and mean: while you have your choice of books without number, clear, amusing, and pretty, as well as really instructive, on subjects which were only talked of fifty years ago by a few learned men, and very little understood even by them. So if mere reading of books would make wise men, you ought to grow up much wiser than us old fellows. But mere reading of wise books will not make you wise men: you must use for yourselves the tools with which books are made wise; and that is—your eyes, and ears, and common sense.
Now, among those very stupid old-fashioned boys’ books was one which taught me that; and therefore I am more grateful to it than if it had been as full of wonderful pictures as all the natural history books you ever saw. Its name was Evenings at Home; and in it was a story called “Eyes and no Eyes;” a regular old-fashioned, prim, sententious story; and it began thus:—
“Well, Robert, where have you been walking this afternoon?” said Mr. Andrews to one of his pupils at the close of a holiday.
Oh—Robert had been to Broom Heath, and round by Camp Mount, and home through the meadows. But it was very dull. He hardly saw a single person. He had much rather have gone by the turnpike-road.
Presently in comes Master William, the other pupil, dressed, I suppose, as wretched boys used to be dressed forty years ago, in a frill collar, and skeleton monkey-jacket, and tight trousers buttoned over it, and hardly coming down to his ancles; and low shoes, which always came off in sticky ground; and terribly dirty and wet he is: but he never (he says) had such a pleasant walk in his life; and he has brought home his handkerchief (for boys had no pockets in those days much bigger than key-holes) full of curiosities.
He has got a piece of mistletoe, wants to know what it is; and he has seen a woodpecker, and a wheat-ear, and gathered strange flowers on the heath; and hunted a peewit because he thought its wing was broken, till of course it led him into a bog, and very wet he got. But he did not mind it, because he fell in with an old man cutting turf, who told him all about turf-cutting, and gave him a dead adder. And then he went up a hill, and saw a grand prospect; and wanted to go again, and make out the geography of the country from Cary’s old county maps, which were the only maps in those days. And then, because the hill was called Camp Mount, he looked for a Roman camp, and found one; and then he went down to the river, saw twenty things more; and so on, and so on, till he had brought home curiosities enough, and thoughts enough, to last him a week.