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| Home | Reading Room The New McGuffey Fourth Reader

The New McGuffey Fourth Reader
by William H. McGuffey, Compiler

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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 list

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?" "Oh,

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 you will

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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