We’ve seen some bad children of history learn lessons through brute force (lighting on fire, sustaining injury from a porcupine, being tossed into a tree by a drunken bull), but today we’re going to see a bad child learning proper behavior in a gentler way– through The Force of Example.
Here’s the (anti-?)hero of today’s tale, a schoolboy named Charles.
The telling illustration above really lays the groundwork: we can see that Charles has a loving mother who wears a ruffly bonnet and guides him toward school with a firm yet gentle hand. We can see the rough floorboards and simple door indicating that these aren’t fancy folks, but they’re not so down and out that Charles would go to school in anything but clean trousers and a wee top hat with a floppy brim. We can see Charles uncertainly pointing at the open door, showing that he’s not entirely thrilled at the prospect of another day of lessons.
Charles begins the trek to school, but as he passes into the woods, he realizes that it’s nice outside– far nicer than it would be inside his classroom. (I realize this same thing whenever I have to spend another perfectly good beach day inside the library.)
Wait a minute! Charles can just stay in the woods, and not go to school at all!
Slumped forlornly on a stump, his sweet realization is suddenly overshadowed by the reality that playing outside by one’s self is kind of boring.
Other, less-bad children are on the way to school, so Charles needs to expand his search for a playmate. He approaches various creatures, including a bee (desperate much?), a dog that looks like a bear, a goldfinch, and a free-ranging horse. Here’s a sloppy montage of those interactions:
Mind you, and I know this is hard to believe– no one wants to play. The bee can’t remain idle because she has to pursue some honey, the dog can’t remain idle because he has to herd some sheep, the bird can’t remain idle because she has to build a soft nest, and the horse can’t remain idle because she has to plough a field (I know we’ve all heard that one before).
Poor Charles is despondent.
Here’s where Charles admirably guides himself to the correct, moral decision, after observing the gainfully-employed examples of various fauna. He wipes away a tear and proclaims, to no one in particular,
Why how foolish it is,
To sit here and cry!
I will hasten to school,
And my tears I will dry;
When I’m there, I’ll be steady,
And try to excel;
For if I take pains,
I may learn to read well;
Then I’ll be attentive,
My book I will mind;
For he who is busy
Is happy, I find.
Hey, thanks, busy animals! Now maybe you can give me a pep talk as I head into my office on this beautiful day.