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Jane Marcet


A little girl was sitting one day with a book in her hand which she was studying with a woe-begone countenance, when her mother came into the room. "Why, Mary!" said her mother, "what is the matter? Your book is not very entertaining, I fear."

"No, indeed it is not," replied the child, who could scarcely help crying; "I never read such a stupid book; and look," added she, pointing to the pencil-marks on the page, "what a long hard lesson I have to learn! Miss Thompson says, that now I am seven years old, I ought to begin to learn grammar; but I do not want to learn grammar; it is all nonsense; only see what a number of hard words that I cannot understand!"

Her mother took up the book, and observed that the lesson marked out for her to learn was not the beginning of the Grammar.

"No mamma, the beginning is all about the letters of the alphabet, and spelling; but I am sure I know my letters, vowels, and consonants too, and I can spell pretty well; so Miss Thompson said I might begin here," and she pointed out the place to her mother, who read as follows:—"There are in the English language nine sorts of words, or parts of speech: article, noun, pronoun, adjective, verb, adverb, preposition, conjunction, and interjection."

When she had finished, Mary said, "Well, mamma, is not all that nonsense?"

"No, my dear; but it is very difficult for you to understand, so you may skip over that. Let us see what follows." Mary seemed much pleased, and her mother continued reading. "An article is a word prefixed to nouns to point them out, and show how far their signification extends."

"Well, mamma, that is as bad as the rest; and if it is not real nonsense, it is nonsense to me at least, for I cannot understand it; so pray let us skip over that too."

"Let us see if something easier comes next," said her mother, and she went on reading. " 'A noun is the name of any thing that exists; it is therefore the name of any person, place, or thing.' Now, Mary, I think you can understand that: what is your brother's name?"

"Charles," replied Mary.

"Well then, Charles is a noun, because it is the name of a person."

"And am I  a noun as well as Charles, mamma?"

"I  is not your name," replied her mother; "when I call you, I do not say, 'Come here I.' "

"Oh no, you say, 'Come here, Mary.' "

"Then Mary  is a noun, because it is your name."

"But sometimes you say, 'Come here, child;' is child a noun as well as Mary?"

"Yes, because you are called child as well as Mary."

"And when I am older, mamma, I shall be called a girl, and not a child; and is girl a noun too?"

"Yes, every name is a noun."

"Then papa is a noun, and mamma is a noun, and little Sophy is a noun, and baby is her other noun, because it is her other name; and John and George. Oh, what a number of nouns! Well, I think I shall understand nouns at last;" and her countenance began to brighten up.

"There are a great number of other nouns," said her mother. "Sheep and horses, cats and dogs, in short, the names of all animals are nouns, as just as much nouns as the names of persons."

"But the Grammar does not say so, mamma?"

"It is true," replied her mother, "that it does not mention animals; but when it says that a noun is the name of any thing that exists, animals certainly exist, so they are nouns."

"Well, I think, mamma, the Grammar ought to have said persons and animals."

"Or it might have said animals alone: for persons are animals, you know, Mary."

"Oh yes, I know that men, women, and children are all animals; and they are nouns, as well as geese and ducks, woodcocks and turkeys: oh! and my pretty canary-bird too; and I suppose the names of ugly animals, such as rats, and frogs, and toads, and spiders, are nouns also?"

"Certainly," replied her mother; "but look, Mary, the Grammar says that the name of a place is also a noun."

"What place, mamma?"

"All places whatever. A town is the name of a place that people live in."

"Yes," said Mary; "so London, and Hampstead, and York, are nouns; but a house is a place people live in, too, mamma."

"Therefore house  is a noun as well as town.  What is this place we are now sitting in called, Mary?"

"It is called a room, so room  is the name of a place to sit in, and stable  a place to keep horses in, and dairy  a place to keep milk and butter in; and they are all nouns." "And cupboard  is a noun, mamma, because it is a place to keep sweetmeats in."

"Certainly," replied her mother.

"Then the house  and the garden,  and the church  and the fields,  are nouns? What great nouns!" exclaimed Mary; "and are little places nouns?"

"Certainly, this little box is a place to hold sugar plums, therefore box is a noun; and the key-hole of the door is a place to put the key in, so key-hole is a noun."

"And drawer is a noun, I am quite sure, mamma; for it is a place I keep my toys in. But, mamma, I think the key-hole of the lock, and the box for sugar plums, are more like things than places?"

"They are both; for things that are made to hold something, such as a drawer and a box, are also places; especially if they are made for the purpose of keeping the things safe."

"Oh yes," said Mary; "papa's desk is a place where he keeps his letters and bills so carefully; you know, mamma, I am never allowed to touch any thing in it. Then there is the tea-chest, which is a place and a thing too. It is a very pretty thing, and a very safe place; for you know you always keep it locked. Oh, I begin to like nouns, they make me think of so many pretty things."

"I am glad to hear it, my dear," said her mother; "but I think we have had enough of them to-day. You must not learn too much at once, or you will not be able to remember what you learn. We shall find enough to say on nouns for a second lesson."