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From The Wit and Humor of America, edited by Marshall P. Wilder, Volume III, New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls and Company, 1911; pp. 448-453.




When Rollo was five years young, his father said to him one evening:

“Rollo, put away your roller skates and bicycle, carry that rowing machine out into the hall, and come to me. It is time for you to learn to read.”

Then Rollo’s father opened the book which he had sent home on a truck and talked to the little boy about it. It was Bancroft’s History of the United States, half complete in twenty-three volumes. Rollo’s father explained to Rollo and Mary his system of education, with special reference to Rollo’s learning to read. His plan was that Mary should teach Rollo fifteen hours a day for ten years, and by that time Rollo would be half through the beginning of the first volume, and would like it very much indeed.

Rollo was delighted at the prospect. He cried aloud:

“Oh, papa! thank you very much. When I read this book clear through, all the way to the end of the last volume, may I have another little book to read?”

“No,” replied the father, “that may not be; because you will never get to the last volume of this one. For as fast as you read one volume, the author of this history, or his heirs, executors, administrators, or assigns, will write another as an appendix. So even though you should live to be a very old man, like the boy preacher, this history will always be twenty-three volumes ahead of you. 449 Now, Mary and Rollo, this will be a hard task (pronounced tawsk) for both of you, and Mary must remember that Rollo is a very little boy, and must be very patient and gentle.”

The next morning after the one preceding it, Mary began the first lesson. In the beginning she was so gentle and patient that her mother went away and cried, because she feared her dear little daughter was becoming too good for this sinful world, and might soon spread her wings and fly away and be an angel.

But in the space of a short time, the novelty of the expedition wore off, and Mary resumed running her temper — which was of the old-fashioned, low-pressure kind, just forward of the fire-box — on its old schedule. When she pointed to “A” for the seventh time, and Rollo said “W,” she tore the page out by the roots, hit her little brother such a whack over his head with the big book that it set his birthday back six weeks, slapped him twice, and was just going to bite him, when her mother came in. Mary told her that Rollo had fallen down stairs and torn his book and raised that dreadful lump on his head. This time Mary’s mother restrained her emotion, and Mary cried. But it was not because she feared her mother was pining away. Oh, no; it was her mother’s rugged health and virile strength that grieved Mary, as long as the seance lasted, which was during the entire performance.

That evening Rollo’s father taught Rollo his lesson and made Mary sit by and observe his methods, because, he said, that would be normal instruction for her. He said:

“Mary, you must learn to control your temper and curb your impatience, if you want to wear low-neck dresses, and teach school. You must be sweet and patient, or you will never succeed as a teacher. Now, Rollo, what is this letter?”


“I dunno,” said Rollo, resolutely.

“That is A,” said his father, sweetly.

“Huh,” replied Rollo, “I knowed that.”

“Then why did you not say so?” replied his father, so sweetly that Jonas, the hired boy, sitting in the corner, licked his chops.

Rollo’s father went on with the lesson:

“What is this, Rollo?”

“I dunno,” said Rollo, hesitatingly.

“Sure?” asked his father. “You do not know what is it?”

“Nuck,” said Rollo.

“It is A,” said his father.

“A what?” asked Rollo.

“A nothing,” relied his father, “it is just A. Now what is it?”

“Just A,” said Rollo.

“Do not be flip, my son,” said Mr. Holliday, “but attend to your lesson. What letter is this?”

“I dunno,” said Rollo.

“Don’t fib to me,” said his father gently, “you said a minute ago that you knew. That is N.”

“Yes, sir,” replied Rollo, meekly. Rollo, although he was a little boy, was no slouch, if he did wear bibs; he knew where he lived without looking at the door-plate. When it came time to be meek, there was no boy this side of the planet Mars who could be meeker, on shorter notice. So he said, “Yes, sir,” with that subdued and well pleased alacrity of a boy who has just been asked to guess the answer to the conundrum, “Will you have another piece of pie?”

“Well,” said his father, rather suddenly, “what is it?”

“M,” said Rollo, confidently.

“N!” yelled his father, in three-line Gothic.


“N,” echoed Rollo, in lower case nonpareil.

“B-a-n,” said his father, “what does that spell?”

“Cat?” suggested Rollo, a trifle uncertainly.

“Cat?” snapped his father, with a sarcastic inflection, “b-a-n, cat! Where were you raised? Ban! B-a-n — Ban! Say it! Say it, or I’ll get at you with a skate-strap!”

“B-a-m, Band,” said Rollo, who was beginning to wish that he had a rain-check and could come back and see the remaining innings some other day.

“Ba-a-a-an!” shouted his father, “B-a-n, Ban, Ban, Ban! Now say Ban!”

“Ban,” said Rollo, with a little gasp.

“That’s right,” his father said, in an encouraging tone; “you will learn to read one of these years if you give your mind to it. All he needs, you see, Mary, is a teacher who doesn’t lose patience with him the first time he makes a mistake. Now, Rollo, how do you spell, B-a-n, Ban?”

Rollo started out timidly on c-a — then changed to d-o, — and finally compromised on h-e-n.

Mr. Holliday made a pass at him with Volume I, but Rollo saw it coming and got out of the way.

“B-a-n!” his father shouted, “B-a-n, Ban! Ban! Ban! Ban! Ban! Now go on, if you think you know how to spell that! What comes next? Oh, you’re enough to tire the patience of Job! I’ve a good mind to make you learn by the Pollard system, and begin where you leave off! Go ahead, why don’t you? Whatta you waiting for? Read on! What comes next? Why, croft, of course; anybody ought to know that — c-r-o-f-t, croft, Bancroft! What does that apostrophe mean? I mean, what does that punctuation mark between t and s stand for? You don’t know? Take that, then! (whack). What comes after Bancroft? Spell it! Spell it, I tell you, and don’t be all night about it! Can’t, eh? Well, read it then; if you can’t 452 spell it, read it. H-i-s-t-o-r-y, history; Bancroft’s History of the Untied States! Now what does that spell? I mean, spell that! Spell it! Oh, go away! Go to bed! Stupid, stupid child,” he added as the little boy went weeping out of the room, “he’ll never learn anything as long as he lives. I declare he has tired me all out, and I used to teach school in Trivoli township, too. Taught one whole winter in district number three when Nick Worthington was county superintendent, and had my salary — look here, Mary, what do you find in that English grammar to giggle about? You go to bed, too, and listen to me — if Rollo can’t read that whole book clear through without making a mistake to-morrow night, you’ll wish you had been born without a back, that’s all.”

The following morning, when Rollo’s father drove away to business, he paused a moment as Rollo stood at the gate for a final good-by kiss — for Rollo’s daily good-byes began at the door and lasted as long as his father was in sight — Mr. Holliday said:

“Some day, Rollo, you will thank me for teaching you to read.”

“Yes, sir,” replied Rollo, respectfully, and then added, “but not this day.”

Rollo’s head, though it had here and there transient bumps consequent upon foot-ball practice, was not naturally or permanently hilly. On the contrary, it was quite level.


Tact Imperturbability Ebullition

Exasperation Red-hot                      Knout        

Lamb Philosopher            Terrier      

Which end of a rattan hurts the more? — Why does reading make a full man? — Is an occasional whipping good for a boy? — At precisely what age does corporal punishment cease to be effective? — And 453 why? — State, in exact terms, how much better are grown up people without the rod, than little people with it. — And why? — When would a series of good sound whippings have been of the greatest benefit to Solomon, when he was a godly young man, or an idolatrous old one? — In order to reform this world thoroughly, then, whom should we thrash, the children or the grown-up people? — And why? — If, then, the whipping post should be abolished in Delaware, why should it be retained in the nursery and the school room? — Write on the board, in large letters, the following sentence:

If a boy ten years old should

be whipped for breaking a window,

what should be done to a man

thirty-five years old for breaking

the third commandment?

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