Nature took the measure of little Tommy Edwards for a round hole, but his parents, teachers, and all with whom his childhood was cast, got it into their heads that Tommy was certainly intended for a square hole. So, with the best intentions in the world,—but oh, such woeful ignorance!—they tortured the poor little fellow and crippled him for life by trying to fit him to their pattern instead of that designed for him by the all-wise Mother.
Mother Nature called to Tommy to go into the woods and fields, to wade through the brooks, and make friends with all the living things she had placed there,—tadpoles, beetles, frogs, crabs, mice, rats, spiders, bugs,—everything that had life. Willingly, lovingly did the little lad obey, but only to be whipped and scolded by good Mother Edwards when he let loose in her kitchen the precious treasures which he had collected in his rambles.
It was provoking to have rats, mice, toads, bugs, and all sorts of creepy things sent sprawling over one’s clean kitchen floor. But the pity of it was that Mrs. Edwards did not understand her boy, and thought the only cure for what she deemed his mischievous propensity as whipping. So Tommy was whipped and scolded, and scolded and whipped, which, however, did not in the least abate his love for Nature.
Driven to desperation, his mother bethought her of a plan. She would make the boy prisoner and see if this would tame him. With a stout rope she tied him by the leg to a table, and shut him in a room alone. But no sooner was the door closed than he dragged himself and the table to the fireplace, and, at the risk of setting himself and the house on fire, burned the rope which bound him, and made his escape into the woods to collect new specimens.
And yet his parents did not understand. It was time, however, to send him to school. They would see what the schoolmaster would do for him. But the schoolmaster was as blind as the parents, and Tommy’s doom was sealed, when one morning, while the school was at prayers, a jackdaw poked its head out of his pocket and began to caw.
His next teacher misunderstood, whipped, and bore with him until one day nearly every boy in the school found a horse-leech wriggling up his leg, trying to suck his blood. This ended his second school experience.
He was given a third trial, but with no better results than before. Things went on in the usual way until a centipede was discovered in another boy’s desk. Although in this case Tommy was innocent of any knowledge of the intruder, he was found guilty, whipped, and sent home with the message, “Go and tell your father to get you on board a man-of-war, as that is the best school for irreclaimables such as you.”
His school life thus ended, he was apprenticed to a shoemaker, and thenceforth made his living at the bench. But every spare moment was given to the work which was meat and drink, life itself, to him.