Monday, August 31, 2009


La Rentrée

H.L. Mencken, Baltimore Evening Sun (October 8, 1928):
It always makes me melancholy to see the boys going to school. During the half hour before 9 o'clock they stagger through the square in front of my house in Baltimore with the despondent air of New Yorkers coming up from the ferries to work. It happens to be uphill, but I believe they'd lag as much if they were going down. Shakespeare, in fact, hints as much in the Seven Ages. In the afternoon, coming home, they leap and spring like gazelles. They are tired, but they are happy, and happiness in the young always takes the form of sharp and repeated contractions of the striped muscles, especially in the legs, arms and larynx.

The notion that schoolboys are generally content with their lot seems to me to be a sad delusion. They are, in the main, able to bear it, but they like it no more than a soldier enjoys life in a foxhole. The need to endure it makes actors of them; they learn how to lie—perhaps the most valuable thing, to a citizen of Christendom, that they learn in school. No boy genuinely loves and admires his teacher; the farthest he can go, assuming him to have all of his wits, is to tolerate her as he tolerates castor oil. She may be the loveliest flower in the whole pedagogical garden, but the most he can ever see in her is a jailer who might conceivably be worse.
Shakespeare, As You Like It, 2.7.144-146:
Then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.

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