Learn Things for Yourself
By Heinrich G. Louis – 1913
“Oh, I can’t stand this any longer,” aid the Music Teacher sinking into a chair on the porch.
“What’s the matter?” asked the Candid Friend, from the depths of the hammock.
“Matter? Why, everything’s the matter. I’m going to give up, I know when I’ve had enough, and it’s right now.”
And the Music Teacher put her handkerchief to her eyes and betrayed every possible sign of emotion. The day was hot and sultry, and the Candid Friend was fat and motherly. She grunted a little as she got up from the hammock and went over to her friend.
“Now,” she said, taking the Music Teacher’s hand, “suppose you tell me all about it.”
“Oh, it’s that horrid little Beatrice Edwards. I’ve worked like a slave over her, and I’ll never do a thing for her again.”
“Why, I thought she was one of your favorite pupils!”
“So she was till this afternoon. Mrs. Edwards asked me to lunch to meet the Wesendoncks–you know them? They have hosts of children. Both Mrs. Edwards and I thought it would be a splendid thing for me to meet them, as they are so interested in music, and I know they are looking for a teacher for the children.”
“The lunch passed off very nicely and I thought Mrs. Wesendonck was charming. She was simply lovely to me all the time. She knew all the places in Germany I went to last summer, and we had a lovely talk over things. After lunch we all went into the music room, and I played something, and Mildred Wesendonck–Mrs. Wesendonck’s niece, you know–she played something, and finally Mrs. Edwards told Beatrice to play one of her pieces.”
“I grew nervous at that, of course, but I tried not to show it. I told her to play Grieg’s Scherzo in E Minor. You know, she plays it beautifully at the studio when I’m there to watch her.”
Here the Music Teacher broke down once more and wept.
“Well, what next?”
“Well, would you believe it? That little wretch played a few measures, then she stopped, and said she couldn’t go on. And the bit she did play she got all wrong. The Wesendoncks knew Beatrice had been studying with me, and, of course, they were awfully sympathetic and all that, but I know for a fact they’ll never ask to to teach the children and Mrs. Edwards was as mad as could be.”
“To think of all the time I’ve wasted on that child! I’ve watched over her like a guardian angel. I counted for her, played the tune an octave higher for her while she was learning it. Sometimes I would just hum it while she was playing, and let her do it for herself. I’ve done everything I could for that child. I never had anyone do as much for me as that. I had to learn it all by myself. Old Professor Kinderschlagen never did anything like that over in Munich. He used to go to sleep half the time, and only woke up when I made a mistake.”
“Yet you learnt to play the piano,” said the Candid Friend thoughtfully.
“Oh, yes, I learned to play; but I had to do it all myself. He hardly did a ting except criticize and get cross whenever I made the same mistake twice.”
“I think perhaps that was why you learned to play,” said the Candid Friend slowly, as if she had an idea.
“Why, what do you mean?”
“Simply that the Professor left you alone so as to learn things for yourself, instead of having them told you all the time. You know, nobody remembers how to do things that somebody else does for them all the time. You’ve been helping Beatrice too much.”
“Oh, how can you say such a thing? I think you are simply horrid.”
“Well, I can’t help it. You’ve been helping the child, and helping the child, until she simply cannot do a thing without having you site by her and show her how. She never remembered anything you ever told her because she never had to. Every time she did anything wrong you told her all over again–and probably admired yourself into the bargain for your seraphic patience. Your old German professor had taught hundreds more pupils than you ever have, and he knew what he was doing when he left you along except when you kept of making the old blunders. He taught you to think for yourself.”
The Music Teacher sat up, her eyes blazing with wrath. “How dare you say such things? How can you be so unsympathetic? I’ll never speak to you again as long as I live.” She got up, standing very erect. “I hate you.” she added. Then she strode majestically into the house.
The Candid Friend sighed to herself and moved back to the hammock, where she philosophized over the ingratitude of mankind as other Candid Friends have done before her.
About an hour later, however, the Music Teacher came out onto the porch and went over to the hammock.
“I think it was awfully mean of you to say what you did just now,” she said. “But all the same, I’m afraid you were right. I’m sorry I got so crazy, dear. I’m a good girl now, though, and in future I’ll take care that my pupils learn things for themselves.”