Sunday, February 17, 2019


Grammar Lesson

Arthur Wellington Brayley, Schools and Schoolboys of Old Boston (Boston: Louis P. Hager, 1894), pp. 44-45 (incident related by Rufus Dawes; Sawney = Benjamin Apthorp Gould, one of Ralph Waldo Emerson's teachers; some quotation marks removed):
"Go on," says Sawney; "Bangs, what is an active verb?"

"An active verb," replies Bangs, "is a verb which expresses —"

"Well, what does an active verb express?"

Bangs twists and turns, and looks imploringly first at his right-hand classmate and then at his left, but neither can prompt him, if he knows, as probably he does — not.

"Well," continues Sawney, switching the air with his cane, "well, mutton-head, what does an active verb express?"

"I'll tell you what it expresses," he screams, after a little delay, bringing the stick down upon the boy's haunches with decided emphasis; "it expresses an action, and necessarily supposes an agent (flourishing the cane, which again descends as before), and an object acted upon, as 'castigo te' — I chastise thee. Do you understand now, hey?"

"Yes sir, yes sir!" replies the boy, doing his best to get out of the way of the rattan, but Sawney is not disposed to let him off so.

"Now tell me when an active verb is also called transitive?" "I don't know, sir," drawls Bangs, doggedly.

"Don't you?' follows Sawney, "then I'll inform you. An active verb is called transitive when the action passeth over (whack, whack!) to the object. You (whack) are the object, I am (whack!) the agent. Now take care how you go home and say that I never taught you anything. Do you hear?" (Whack!)
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