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frog-concerts? Very well. How many sparrows flew up from the curbstone this morning when you turned the corner into Elm Street? You could not count them, of course, but you could make a rough estimate. Perhaps some of them did not fly up, they are such bold creatures none of your timid wild-birds that will not let you get within gun-shot of them. Now find out how widely distributed these English sparrows are. You will hardly find that in books; you will have to ask some one who has been in Boston and New Orleans and San Francisco. You will then get a good general idea of the entire number of these birds to be found in the country at present. Next, find out when they were introduced here from Europe, and compute the rate of increase. Why do they thrive so here? Will this thing continue? Or is there a natural limit that prevents any particular form of animal or vegetable life from exterminating all other forms? If so, what is this natural limit and when is it reached? Well, we are getting into deep water, and we may not get out. But no matter. It is to be hoped you do not believe that asking questions is the special prerogative of fools. There are many questions that no fool was ever capable of asking. Indeed there is scarcely a better test of a man's intelligence than the sort of questions he asks. And so our questions may go unanswered. What then? We have at least had something to think about and to write about.
There was another thing you noticed this morning. The little green-painted flower-pot with its blooming geranium was not to be seen in its customary place on the window-sill of a certain house; and a carriage
that looked suspiciously like a doctor's was waiting before the door. Every morning for several weeks that pink geranium had greeted you, making a bright spot in the gloom of the narrow tenement-street. At noon when the sun beat in there pitilessly, the flower had disappeared. A few streets back there are houses with great conservatories filled with gorgeous tropical plants. A gardener works among them constantly. But these flowers you suspect are kept for show, and you have been more interested in the little geranium whose comings and goings gave evidence of loving care. Why, is it possible that you have ever sat for half an hour, scratching your head and gnawing the end of your pen-holder trying to think of "something to write about"?
If you have difficulty in finding something to write about, you may be sure it is because you have a wrong idea as to what constitutes a proper theme. Perhaps you think it should be something remote in time or place, some description of Greenland or story of the South Sea Islands, some event in the past, some theory, some prophecy of the future-something in short that you never have seen, that has scarcely ever occupied your thoughts at all, and that in consequence you know little or nothing about. If such be your idea it is not strange that you should have to puzzle a long time before lighting upon what seems to you a suitable subject. And then you will have to rack your brains a longer time to find something to write upon the subject, or else take refuge in what somebody else has written. Now "racking the brains" is a thing good enough in itself, only we do not want to have too much of it to
do at the outset.
What we want to do first is to write. Then after a while we shall find that the expression of thought has grown comparatively so easy that we can devote nearly all our time and energy to the thought itself. Therefore do not seek too far for material. Be satisfied for the present with home-topics and homethoughts. You are thinking about something perhaps every waking moment of your life. You talk fast enough too when you are among your companions, and without even a thought of its difficulty. It ought to be almost as easy to write; and it is. You will find it so if you only write as you think and talk, taking the same subjects and treating them in much the same way. And you will find too that writing, far from being a task, is a real pleasure.
Is it something new that you want? The chances are just as good that you will find it right at home as elsewhere. A thousand aspiring, or, it may be, driven and desperate, young essayists have written upon the genius of Napoleon and the pleasures of hope and the blessings of civilization; but ten to one nobody has ever yet written about your grandfather's barn with all its denizens from the calves in the basement to the pigeons in the roof, with its pulley-fork and grain chutes, its harness room and machinery sheds, and the inexhaustible resources for fun in its spacious carriage room and haymow on a rainy day. The loving and truthful touches which you are sure to give to descriptions of this character will be worth more than all the artificial glamor your fancy may throw over “cloudcapped towers and gorgeous palaces."
You have made a mistake at times, perhaps, in im
agining that what was new to you would be new to others. But you make a greater mistake in taking it for granted that what is old and familiar to you will be so to everybody else. You walk through the streets of your native town or city and find it all too commonplace to furnish you a fitting theme. But you travel to a foreign country and visit its metropolis for the first time. Here everything is novel, from the paving of the streets to the architecture of the public buildings, from the signs over the shop-doors to the dress and manners of the clerk behind the counter. You are inspired to record your impressions and you fill your journal with graphic descriptions, and write long letters home. You would like to tell all the world of what you have seen and heard. But you fail to realize that there are thousands who have spent their lives in this city and who find no more inspiration here than you found in your native place. They would not be half so much interested in what you might write about it as in what you might write about your home. Realize this once and you go back with a sense of the rarity and importance of what you had all along called commonplace. Here at home you may not be able to write with quite the same keenness of interest, but you can make up for this by fidelity and sympathy. And once you fully feel that what is best known to yourself is least known to nearly everybody else, your interest will be aroused where it was never aroused before.
Again; are you quite sure there is not something new, even for you, in these old familiar scenes? We allow things to grow old to us too soon in this world. Resolve every morning as you take your accustomed
route to school that you will see something newsomething that you have not noticed before though it may have been there a long time. Rest assured you can find such things every day. And when looking for them has grown a habit, you will find yourself living as it were in another and most wonderful world. You want a subject for an essay; take "The Street I Live In." Make a drawing of it first, what the surveyor calls a plot or plan. Locate the houses, the fences and gates, the walks, the trees. You will soon find it necessary to take a walk through the street in order to verify your plan; and before you are through you will conclude that you did not know half so much about your street as you thought you did. So it is with everything. We shall find here, to be sure, a great difference in individuals. Some of us are naturally quick and accurate observers and calculators, others are not. Experiment on yourself. Try to recall the patterns of the carpets or rugs at home, the color of the paper on the wall of your bed-room. Can you give the dimensions of the room you are now occupying? the number of square rods or acres in your play-ground? the number of paces from the gate to the corner? Some of you will find that you can do these things with ease. Others of you will be surprised to find that you do not know positively whether your dearest friend's eyes are brown or blue, and whether Mr. So-and-So, whom you see every day, wears a moustache or not. It is truly astonishing to consider how little we see with our eyes open all the time.
There is another consideration. Nobody else ever heard with your ears or saw with your eyes. Might it