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Fifty Famous People by  James Baldwin

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WRITING A COMPOSITION

[18] "CHILDREN, to-morrow I shall expect all of you to write compositions," said the teacher of Love Lane School. "Then, on Friday those who have done the best may stand up and read their compositions to the school."

Some of the children were pleased, and some were not.

"What shall we write about?" they asked.

"You may choose any subject that you like best," said the teacher.

Some of them thought that "Home" was a good subject. Others liked "School." One little boy chose "The Horse." A little girl said she would write about "Summer."

The next day, every pupil except one had written a composition.

"Henry Longfellow," said the teacher, "why have you not written?"

"Because I don't know how," answered Henry. He was only a child.

"Well," said the teacher, "you can write words, can you not?"

"Yes, sir," said the boy.

[19] "After you have written three or four words, you can put them together, can you not?"

"Yes, sir; I think so."

"Well, then," said the teacher, "you may take your slate and go out behind the schoolhouse for half an hour. Think of something to write about, and write the word on your slate. Then try to tell what it is, what it is like, what it is good for, and what is done with it. That is the way to write a composition."

Henry took his slate and went out. Just behind the schoolhouse was Mr. Finney's barn. Quite close to the barn was a garden. And in the garden, Henry saw a turnip.

"Well, I know what that is," he said to himself; and he wrote the word turnip  on his slate. Then he tried to tell what it was like, what it was good for, and what was done with it.

Before the half hour was ended he had written a very neat composition on his slate. He then went into the house, and waited while the teacher read it.

The teacher was surprised and pleased. He said, "Henry Longfellow, you have done very well. Tomorrow you may stand up before the school and read what you have written about the turnip."

[20] Many years after that, some funny little verses about Mr. Finney's turnip were printed in a newspaper. Some people said that they were what Henry Longfellow wrote on his slate that day at school.

But this was not true. Henry's composition was not in verse. As soon as it was read to the school, he rubbed it off the slate, and it was forgotten.

Perhaps you would like to read those funny verses. Here they are; but you must never, never, NEVER think that Henry Longfellow wrote them.

Mr. Finney had a turnip,

And it grew, and it grew;

It grew behind the barn,

And the turnip did no harm.


And it grew, and it grew,

Till it could grow no taller;

Then Mr. Finney took it up,

And put it in the cellar.


There it lay, there it lay,

Till it began to rot;

Then Susie Finney washed it

And put it in a pot.


She boiled it, and boiled it,

As long as she was able;

[21]

Then Mrs. Finney took it,

And put it on the table.


Mr. Finney and his wife

Both sat down to sup;

And they ate, and they ate,

They ate the turnip up.

All the school children in our country have heard of Henry W. Longfellow. He was the best loved of all our poets. He wrote "The Village Blacksmith," "The Children's Hour," and many other beautiful pieces which you will like to read and remember.


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