Saturday, September 01, 2012


Old Tully and His Grandson Erb

John Halsham (pseudonym of George Forrester Scott, 1864-1937), Lonewood Corner: A Countryman's Horizons (New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, 1907), pp. 211-213:
It was all depressingly perspicuous; the old ones, that had learnt what work meant, dropped off one by one, and the young ones were never taught naun but school-learning, and smoking cigarettes and sarcing their betters. 'Tis all made easy for 'em now; but he reckons there's some things as is only to be learned by hard work and taking pains. He used to walk three miles to his work every day at his first place, and that meant getting up at four, and back after seven. He was put on to mow with the men when he was seventeen; and you got to keep up with 'em somehow, and learn to sharp properly. There isn't a boy in the school now, he 'spects, that could sharp a scythe or a hook, let alone mow. They don't look to things; 'tis all ready-made and take-it-easy; why ne'er he nor his father afore him ever bought a scythe-sned; they'd look out for a likely piece of hazel when they were in the woods, and then at the right time they'd go and cut it for themselves. And choosing a scythe-blade, now; people didn't seem to see no difference. Well, when he went to pick one, he'd wait for a sunshiny day, and hold it up 'twixt him and the sun, so's the light fell on the edge, and then, if it looked as blue as a harebell, you could be pretty sure that was a good one. So with knives; he'd often been asked to choose 'em for people, when he was going into Tisfield.

I thought of the thing defined as an infinite capacity for taking pains, and wondered what polar quality may be denoted by a nation's being mainly concerned to avoid all sort of pains or trouble whatsoever. Tully, I think, would have no hesitation as to its results; there is the concrete product before his eyes in the shape of his grandson Herbert or Erb. Erb, at the age when his grandfather was set to weed in the fields and mind horses, began to exercise his mind with recreative beads and bits of stick under a Government syllabus, and thereafter grew nine years in the atmosphere of the school stove and the odour of unscrubbed humanity, under the influence of the blackboard and its chalky duster, and so became qualified to parse and do mental arithmetic and sing sol-fa, until he is projected complete upon the world, an under-sized, weedy cub, with small show of manners or morals, with one gift of shirking laziness developed in his atrophied little brain. He has been sent away to three or four good places, and after a few weeks in each is back again with his cigarette and his halfpenny paper on the wall by the pond, the gathering-place for all the tribe of skulkers, already something of a parish care and nuisance. If he had had the learning of him, says old Tully, he'd have made something different of him. For my part, I doubt it. I cannot picture to myself Erb turning out at five o'clock, keeping up with the mowers, or learning to choose a scythe: the creature that I know, under-sized and ill-knit, bleached by indoor air and soul-stunted by indoor thinking, with his stick-up collars and fourpenny satin ties, his cherished forelock, his language and his literature, is of another birth, a changeling from the stock of those old breakers of the glebe. He judge a scythe-blade by the blue glimmer on the edge? He can't even distinguish the tastes of the various poisons in his cigarettes.

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