Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > American
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vols. I–V: American
 
The Artless Prattle of Childhood
By Robert Jones Burdette (1844–1914)
 
WE always did pity a man who does not love childhood. There is something morally wrong with such a man. If his tenderest sympathies are not awakened by their innocent prattle, if his heart does not echo their merry laughter, if his whole nature does not reach out in ardent longing after their pure thoughts and unselfish impulses, he is a sour, crusty, crabbed old stick, and the world full of children has no use for him. In every age and clime the best and noblest men loved children. Even wicked men have a tender spot left in their hardened hearts for little children. The great men of the earth love them. Dogs love them. Kamehame Kemokimodahroah, the King of the Cannibal Islands, loves them. Rare, and no gravy. Ah, yes, we all love children.  1
  And what a pleasure it is to talk with them! Who can chatter with a bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked, quick-witted little darling, anywhere from three to five years, and not appreciate the pride which swells a mother’s breast when she sees her little ones admired? Ah, yes, to be sure.  2
  One day—ah, can we ever cease to remember that dreamy, idle summer afternoon—a lady friend, who was down in the city on a shopping excursion, came into the sanctum with her little son, a dear little tid-toddler of five bright summers, and begged us to amuse him while she pursued the duties which called her down-town. Such a bright boy; so delightful it was to talk to him. We can never forget the blissful half-hour we spent booking that prodigy up in his centennial history.  3
  “Now, listen, Clary,” we said—his name was Clarence Fitzherbert Alençon de Marchemont Caruthers—“and learn about George Washington.”  4
  “Who’s he?” inquired Clarence, etc.  5
  “Listen,” we said; “he was the father of his country.”  6
  “Whose country?”  7
  “Ours—yours and mine; the confederated union of the American people, cemented with the life-blood of the men of ’76 poured out upon the altars of our country as the dearest libation to Liberty that her votaries can offer.”  8
  “Who did?” asked Clarence.  9
  There is a peculiar tact in talking to children that very few people possess. Now, most people would have grown impatient and lost their temper when little Clarence asked so many irrelevant questions, but we did not. We knew that, however careless he might appear at first, we could soon interest him in the story, and he would be all eyes and ears. So we smiled sweetly—that same sweet smile which you may have noticed on our photographs. Just the faintest ripple of a smile breaking across the face like a ray of sunlight, and checked by lines of tender sadness just before the two ends of it pass each other at the back of the neck.  10
  And so, smiling, we went on:  11
  “Well, one day George’s father——”  12
  “George who?” asked Clarence.  13
  “George Washington. He was a little boy then, just like you. One day his father——”  14
  “Whose father?” demanded Clarence, with an encouraging expression of interest.  15
  “George Washington’s—this great man we were telling you of. One day George Washington’s father gave him a little hatchet for a——”  16
  “Gave who a little hatchet?” the dear child interrupted with a gleam of bewitching intelligence. Most men would have betrayed signs of impatience, but we didn’t. We know how to talk to children, so we went on:  17
  “George Washington. His——”  18
  “Who gave him the little hatchet?”  19
  “His father. And his father——”  20
  “Whose father?”  21
  “George Washington’s.”  22
  “Oh!”  23
  “Yes, George Washington. And his father told him——”  24
  “Told who?”  25
  “Told George.”  26
  “Oh, yes, George.”  27
  And we went on, just as patient and as pleasant as you could imagine. We took up the story right where the boy interrupted, for we could see that he was just crazy to hear the end of it. We said:  28
  “And he told him that——”  29
  “Who told him what?” Clarence broke in.  30
  “Why, George’s father told George.”  31
  “What did he tell him?”  32
  “Why, that’s just what I’m going to tell you. He told him——”  33
  “Who told him?”  34
  “George’s father. He——”  35
  “What for?”  36
  “Why, so he wouldn’t do what he told him not to do. He told him——”  37
  “George told him?” queried Clarence.  38
  “No, his father told George——”  39
  “Oh!”  40
  “Yes; told him that he must be careful with the hatchet——”  41
  “Who must be careful?”  42
  “George must.”  43
  “Oh!”  44
  “Yes; must be careful with the hatchet——”  45
  “What hatchet?”  46
  “Why, George’s.”  47
  “Oh!”  48
  “Yes; with the hatchet, and not cut himself with it, or drop it in the cistern, or leave it out in the grass all night. So George went round cutting everything he could reach with his hatchet. At last he came to a splendid apple-tree, his father’s favorite, and cut it down and——”  49
  “Who cut it down?”  50
  “George did.”  51
  “Oh!”  52
  “But his father came home and saw it the first thing, and——”  53
  “Saw the hatchet?”  54
  “No; saw the apple-tree. And he said, ‘Who has cut down my favorite apple-tree?’”  55
  “What apple-tree?”  56
  “George’s father’s. And everybody said they didn’t know anything about it, and——”  57
  “Anything about what?”  58
  “The apple-tree.”  59
  “Oh!”  60
  “And George came up and heard them talking about it——”  61
  “Heard who talking about it?”  62
  “Heard his father and the men.”  63
  “What was they talking about?”  64
  “About this apple-tree.”  65
  “What apple-tree?”  66
  “The favorite apple-tree that George cut down.”  67
  “George who?”  68
  “George Washington.”  69
  “Oh!”  70
  “So George came up and heard them talking about it, and he——”  71
  “What did he cut it down for?”  72
  “Just to try his little hatchet.”  73
  “Whose little hatchet?”  74
  “Why, his own; the one his father gave him.”  75
  “Gave who?”  76
  “Why, George Washington.”  77
  “Who gave it to him?”  78
  “His father did.”  79
  “Oh!”  80
  “So George came up, and he said, ‘Father, I cannot tell a lie. I——’”  81
  “Who couldn’t tell a lie?”  82
  “Why, George Washington. He said, ‘Father, I cannot tell a lie. It was——’”  83
  “His father couldn’t?”  84
  “Why, no; George couldn’t.”  85
  “Oh, George? Oh, yes.”  86
  “‘It was I cut down your apple-tree. I did——’”  87
  “His father did?”  88
  “No, no. It was George said this.”  89
  “Said he cut his father?”  90
  “No, no, no; said he cut down his apple-tree.”  91
  “George’s apple-tree?”  92
  “No, no; his father’s.”  93
  “Oh!”  94
  “He said——”  95
  “His father said?”  96
  “No, no, no; George said, ‘Father, I cannot tell a lie. I did it with my little hatchet.’ And his father said, ‘Noble boy, I would rather lose a thousand trees than have you tell a lie.’”  97
  “George did?”  98
  “No; his father said that.”  99
  “Said he’d rather have a thousand apple-trees?”  100
  “No, no, no; said he’d rather lose a thousand apple-trees than——”  101
  “Said he’d rather George would?”  102
  “No; said he’d rather he would than have him lie.”  103
  “Oh, George would rather have his father lie?”  104
  We are patient, and we love children, but if Mrs. Caruthers, of Arch Street, hadn’t come and got her prodigy at this critical juncture, we don’t believe all Burlington could have pulled us out of that snarl. And as Clarence Fitzherbert Alençon de Marchemont Caruthers patted down the stairs, we heard him telling his ma about a boy who had a father named George, and he told him to cut down an apple-tree, and he said he’d rather tell a thousand lies than cut down one apple-tree.  105
 
 
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