THE GOOD READER
It is told of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, that, as he
was seated one day in his private room, a written petition was
brought to him with the request that it should be immediately
read. The king had just returned from hunting, and the glare of
the sun, or some other cause, had so dazzled his eyes that he
found it difficult to make out a single word of the writing.
His private secretary happened to be absent, and the soldier who
brought the petition could not read. There was a page, or
favorite boy-servant, waiting in the hall, and upon him the king
called. The page was a son of one of the noblemen of the court,
but proved to be a very poor reader.
In the first place, he did not articulate distinctly. He huddled
his words together in the utterance, as if they were syllables of
one long word, which he must get through with as speedily as
possible. His pronunciation was bad, and he did not modulate his
voice so as to bring out the meaning of what he read. Every
sentence was uttered with a dismal monotony of voice, as if it
did not differ in any respect from that which preceded it.
"Stop!" said the king, impatiently. "Is it an auctioneer's
of goods to be sold that you are hurrying over? Send your
companion to me." Another page who stood at the door now entered,
and to him the king gave the petition. The second page began by
hemming and clearing his throat in such an affected manner that
the king jokingly asked him if he had not slept in the public
garden, with the gate open, the night before.
The second page had a good share of self-conceit, however, and so
was not greatly confused by the king's jest. He determined that
he would avoid the mistake which his comrade had made. So he
commenced reading the petition slowly and with great formality,
emphasizing every word, and prolonging the articulation of every
syllable. But his manner was so tedious that the king cried out,
"Stop! are you reciting a lesson in the elementary sounds? Out
of the room! But no--stay! Send me that little girl who is
sitting there by the fountain."
The girl thus pointed out by the king was a daughter of one of
the laborers employed by the royal gardener; and she had come to
help her father weed the flower beds. It chanced that, like many
of the poor people in Prussia, she had received a good education.
She was somewhat alarmed when she found herself in the king's
presence, but took courage when the king told her that he only
wanted her to read for him, as his eyes were weak.
Now, Ernestine (for this was the name of the little girl) was
fond of reading aloud, and often many of the neighbors would
assemble at her father's house to hear her; those who could not
read themselves would come to her, also, with their letters from
distant friends or children, and she thus formed the habit of
reading various sorts of handwriting promptly and well.
The king gave her the petition, and she rapidly glanced through
the opening lines to get some idea of what it was about. As she
read, her eyes began to glisten and her breast to heave. "What is
the matter?" asked the king; "don't you know how to read?"
yes, sire" she replied, addressing him with the title usually
applied to him; "I will now read it, if you please."
The two pages were about to leave the room. "Remain," said the
king. The little girl began to read the petition. It was from a
poor widow, whose only son had been drafted to serve in the army,
although his health was delicate and his pursuits had been such
as to unfit him for military life. His father had been killed in
battle, and the son had a strong desire to become a portrait painter.
The writer told her story in a simple, concise manner, that
carried to the heart a belief of its truth: and Ernestine read it
with so much feeling, and with an articulation so just, in tones
so pure and distinct, that when she had finished, the king, into
whose eyes the tears had started, exclaimed, "Oh! now I
understand what it is all about; but I might never have known,
certainly I never should have felt, its meaning had I trusted to
these young gentlemen, whom I now dismiss from my service for one
year, advising them to occupy the time in learning to read."
"As for you, my young lady," continued the king, "I know
ask no better reward for your trouble than the pleasure of
carrying to this poor widow my order for her son's immediate
discharge. Let me see if you can write as well as you can read.
Take this pen, and write as I dictate." He then dictated an
order, which Ernestine wrote, and he signed. Calling one of his
guards, he bade him go with the girl and see that the order was obeyed.
How much happiness was Ernestine the means of bestowing through
her good elocution, united to the happy circumstance that brought
it to the knowledge of the king! First there were her poor
neighbors, to whom she could give instruction and entertainment.
Then there was the poor widow who sent the petition, and who not
only regained her son, but received through Ernestine an order
for him to paint the king's likeness; so that the poor boy soon
rose to great distinction, and had more orders than he could
attend to. Words could not express his gratitude, and that of his
mother, to the little girl.
And Ernestine had, moreover, the satisfaction of aiding her
father to rise in the world, so that he became the king's chief
gardener. The king did not forget her, but had her well educated
at his own expense. As for the two pages, she was indirectly the
means of doing them good, also; for, ashamed of their bad
reading, they commenced studying in earnest, till they overcame
the faults that had offended the king. Both finally rose to
distinction; and they owed their advancement in life chiefly to
their good elocution.
Petition, a formal request.
Articulate, to utter the elementary sounds.
Modulate, to vary or inflect.
Monotony, lack of variety.
Affected, unnatural and silly.
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New McGuffey Fourth Reader