Monday, September 07, 2009

Random Observations About the Young People's Library of Entertainment and Amusement

I am now firmly mired in the "Patriotism and War" section of "The Young People's Library of Entertainment and Amusement." I previously mentioned some general impressions of this 1903 child-indoctrination book. Here are more specific examples.

First, if I never read another "baby talk" poem, it will be too soon. Here's the first stanza from "Lulu's Complaint," by an uncredited author.
I'se a poor 'ittle sorrowful baby,
For B'idget is 'way down 'tairs:
My titten has scratched my fin'er,
And Dolly won't say her p'ayers.
Also included in the "Little Folks' Speaker" section is "The Spanish War Alphabet" by A. C. Needham. Here are some of the letters taught to little folks:
C is for Cuba, a tight little isle;
To get which we may have to fight quite a while.

F is for Freedom, which means a great deal
When your neck has been under a vile Spanish heel.

G is for Germany, whose rude employees
Should learn better manners; be taught to say please.

I's for Insurgents, who holler for aid;
Then eat up the rations and loaf in the shade.

J is for Jones, Davy Jones, if you will,
Whose lockers we've twice had occasion to fill.
William Hearst would have been pleased!

The modern reader will probably enjoy B. Taylor's "Grandpa's Aversion To Slang." Here are some choice lines.
It wasn't so long when I was young--
We used plain language then;
We didn't speak of "them galoots,"
Meanin' boys or men.

When speaking of the nice hand-write
Of Joe, or Tom, or Bill,
We did it plain--we didn't say,
"He slings a nasty quill."

An' when we saw a girl we liked,
Who never failed to please,
We called her pretty, neat and good,
But not "about the cheese."

Well, when we met a good old friend
We hadn't lately seen,
We greeted him, but didn't say,
"Hello, you old sardine!"
The "pathetic selections" are real gems and guaranteed to make your children hate the world. There are the child-death sagas of "Poor Little Jim," "Limpy Tim," "The Dying Boy," "Nobody's Child," and "In the Bottom Drawer," in which abused children get taken away by angels and the narrator feels really bad. Then there are the wife-death epics of "To Mary in Heaven," "The Singer's Climax," and "The Gambler's Wife." If you're really lucky, for extra pathos, these stories are told by people who -- at the last line -- suddenly jump into the air and then die. That's just how it was in 1903! And also God's way of culling bad poets.

The "Humorous and Dialectic" section taught me the following lessons.
  1. Black people use long words, but always incorrectly. They are lazy except when they're playing games. They are always, always, ALWAYS stealing "watermillion."
  2. German people are hard-working, but they're far too rigid in their behaviour. They complain a lot about petty problems.
  3. Irish people are delightful and stupid and they know their place. Then they get in a fight.
When not making fun of ethnic minorities, the "humorous" selections are usually stories about funny things that children do in church. But then there's a little ditty called "An Apostrophe to Aguinaldo." How dare the people of the Philippines resist American occupation of their territory! Especially not when treated with such respect, as in these excerpts.
Say, Aguinaldo,
You little measly
Malay moke,
What's the matter with you?
...
What you need, Aggie,
Is civilizing.
And goldarn
Your yaller percoon-skin,
We'll civilize you
Dead or alive.
You'd better
Fall in to the
Procession of Progress
And go marching on to glory,
Before you fall
Into a hole in the ground.
Understand?
That's us--
U. S.
Even considering all the dead child and watermillion poems, this is by far the most disturbing thing in the book. So far.

1 comment:

GeoX said...

From now on, I am going to address friends and strangers with a hearty "hello, you old sardine" at every opportunity.