Gateway to the Classics: Mary's Grammar by Jane Marcet
Mary's Grammar by  Jane Marcet

Classes of Nouns

The following day Mary came skipping into the room with her Grammar in her hand.

"Well, my dear," said her mother, "I am glad to see that your face is not quite so long as it was at the beginning of your last lesson."

"Oh no, mamma," said Mary; "it is quite a different thing now that you talk to me about my Grammar, and explain it so nicely."

"I do not promise you, Mary, that it will be always entertaining. We cannot learn without taking pains; but if you understand what is taught you, the pains are not very painful," said she, smiling.

"Well, you have now learnt that nouns are the names of persons and of places; but the Grammar says that they are also the names of things."

"Oh yes, I understand that, without any pains at all, mamma; do, pray, let me tell you what things are nouns."

"I hope you do not mean to name them all," said her mother; "for as you know that every thing is a noun, you would never have finished."

"Oh no," replied Mary; "I cannot name every thing in the whole world, only some of those I know best. Table is a noun, and chair, and stool, and my doll, and my toys, too:—but, mamma," cried she, suddenly interrupting herself, "if every thing is a noun, what can the other parts of speech be?"

"The name  of every thing is a noun, my dear; but not every word. The words for  and pretty,  for instance, are not nouns."

"No," said Mary; "for the words for  and pretty  are neither persons, places, nor things; so they cannot be nouns. When I want to find out a noun I must think of a person, place, or thing."

"And name it," added her mother.

"Well, but, mamma, if I were to teach Sophy grammar,—I mean, when she is a little older—do you know how I should set about it?"

"No, indeed, I cannot guess," said her mother, laughing; "but I should be very curious to know what new method you have discovered, after such a profound study of grammar as you have made."

"Nay, mamma, do not laugh at me," said Mary, half vexed.

"Well, come, tell me what your method is?"

"Why, then, I should tell Sophy that a noun is the name of every thing, and then it would be done at once; for when she knew that every thing was a noun, there would be nothing more to learn about it."

"Your method," said her mother, "is the most simple and correct; but do you not think that if she learnt it thus all at once, she might forget it all at once, also? Do you not think that all we have said about nouns, and the dividing them into classes of persons, places, and things, has helped to imprint them on your memory?"

"So it has, mamma. I should not have remembered half so well what a noun was, if we had not talked of so many, and found out whether they were persons, places, or merely belonged to things."

"When you speak of one noun only," said her mother, "it is called singular, because it means one single thing—as a horse, or a box, or a chair; but if you speak of more than one, it is called plural."

"Yes, I know that," said Mary; "but look, mamma! there is a singular noun, called a carriage, trotting down the hill so fast!"

"Does the carriage trot, my dear?"

"Oh no, I mean the horses; but you know they are nouns too, as well as the carriage, only they are plural. Horses are nouns, because they are the names of animals; and a carriage is a noun, because it is the name of a place—or of a thing," said she, interrupting herself; "but it is certainly not the name of a person."

"But," said her mother, "there are some persons in the place, perhaps?"

"Yes," said Mary, "a carriage is a place that holds people,  not things  like a box or drawers."

"I think I have seen things in a carriage, Mary, and felt them too, very inconveniently, when we go into the country, and it is full of packages: but what is there in this carriage?"

"I cannot tell yet, mamma, it is too far off:—oh, now I see a gentleman and a lady; and they are nouns, because they are persons; but, I cannot see inside to know whether there are any parcels."

"And do you hear the sound of the carriage wheels?"

"Yes, that I do," replied she; "it makes a fine noise; the horses are trotting so fast."

"Well, then, noise  is a noun; for whatever you can hear is a noun: and you can hear a noise."

Mary looked astonished; "Then, mamma," said she, "nouns are not only things of all kinds, but other words besides; for noise and sound are not things, at least not like common things, such as chairs and tables."

"That is true," said her mother; "they are of a different nature, but still they are things. Whatever you can hear, see, taste, smell, or feel, is a noun. Do you not say, a loud noise is a very disagreeable thing—a sweet sound is a pleasant thing? Sound and smell are therefore things; but these nouns are certainly rather more difficult for you to understand, than those which you call common nouns; but you must take pains to remember, that whatever we discern by any of our five senses is a noun."

"Our five senses!" repeated Mary: "those are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling."

"And by what sense do you discern those nouns which you call common, such as tables and chairs?"

"Why, we see tables and chairs, and we can touch them too if we please; so we know them by two senses, seeing and feeling."

"And we discern a sound by the sense of hearing."

"Then," said Mary, "thunder is a noun, because I can hear it; and lightning is a noun, because I can see it; and you are a noun, mamma, over and over again; for, first, you are a person, then, I can see you, and feel you when I touch you, and hear you when you speak, but I cannot smell you."

Her mother then took out her handkerchief, and Mary exclaimed, "Oh! I can smell you now so sweet!" and she jumped upon her mother's lap to smell the perfumed handkerchief.

"I hope you are not going to taste me, Mary," said her mother, drawing back, and laughing.

"But now be serious, Mary, for I am going to explain to you some nouns, which are more difficult than all the others."

Mary put on a very grave and attentive look.

"These nouns," continued her mother, "cannot be discerned by the senses, for they belong not to the body but to the mind; virtue, honesty, happiness, greatness, goodness, wickedness,  are nouns of this description."

"Well!" exclaimed Mary, "I never should have thought these words were the names of things."

"Not of bodily things, which we can see, or feel, or perceive by any of our senses; but they are the names of things which belong to the mind, of which we can understand the meaning. If I say, 'Happiness  is the reward of a good conscience,' you understand what I mean by happiness?"

"Oh yes! it is something we like very much; that every body likes; happiness  gives us joy and pleasure, and all sorts of good things."

"And what is goodness?"  inquired her mother.

"Goodness," replied Mary, "is doing every thing that is right; and greatness  is something very large."

"Or greatness,"  observed her mother, "may relate not to the body, but to the mind. Alexander was called the Great  from his conquests, though he was but a little man."

"But," said Mary, "you say that we cannot perceive these nouns by our senses, and yet I am sure I can feel happiness,  and kindness,  and goodness,  and all those difficult nouns."

"What you feel is a sensation of the mind," replied her mother; "but we cannot feel such nouns with our bodily senses as we do tables and chairs."

"Oh, no, certainly," said Mary, "it is quite a different sort of feeling."

Their attention was then caught by the carriage stopping at the door. "Oh, mamma," cried Mary, "they are getting out. It is uncle and aunt Howard. I am so glad!—and uncle and aunt are nouns,—and I hope the little nouns are come too; you know whom I mean, mamma?—Emily and Mary."

"We must go and meet them," said her mother. Mary ran on first, and arrived at the door just in time to receive them,—uncle and aunt, and cousins, too. To Mary's delight, the whole family were come to spend the day, and grammar was no more thought of.

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