Jacksonian Miscellanies, #81

April 27, 1999

Rollo Learns to Read

Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Hopatcong, NJ 1999. Permission is granted to copy, but not for sale, nor in multiple copies, except by permission.

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The following is from:




Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1835,
In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of Massachusetts.

and comes to us courtesy of  Pat Pflieger (gp298@po.cwru.edu) who has a great web site called NINETEENTH-CENTURY AMERICAN CHILDREN & WHAT THEY READ at http://members.tripod.com/~merrycoz/index.htm.

There were a few dozen books in the Rollo series, out of the 200+ titles he is said to have published (Dictionary of American Biog.)


In those intervals of rest which the serious cares and labors of life imperiously demand, a man may find the best amusement for himself in efforts for the amusement of children. This little work and its predecessor, "ROLLO LEARNING TO TALK," have been written on this principle.

Parents find it very difficult to *employ* little children. "Mother, what shall I do?" and sometimes even, "Mother, what shall I do after I have done this?" are heard so often that they sometimes exhaust even maternal patience. These little volumes will, we hope, in some cases, provide an answer to the questions. The writer has endeavored to make them such that children would take an interest in reading them to themselves, and to their younger brothers and sisters, and in repeating them to one another.

The difficulty with most books intended for children just learning to read, is, that the writers make so much effort to confine themselves to *words of one syllable*, that the style is quaint and uninteresting, and often far more unintelligible than the usual language would be. The author's design here has been, first to interest the little reader, hoping, by this interest, to allure him on to the encounter of the difficulties in the language, and to the conquest of them. Hence the more difficult words and phrases, in common use, are not *avoided*, for the very object of such a reading book should be to teach the use of them. They are freely introduced, and rendered intelligible by being placed in striking connections, and familiar, by being frequently repeated. By a wonderful provision in the structure of the mind, children thirst for repetition;--the very thing essential to give security and permanence to the knowledge they acquire.

The subjects of the articles, accordingly, and the method of treating them, are in the highest degree juvenile. But the language is mature. For it is language which we wish to teach them, and consequently we must keep, in language, a little above them, advancing continually ourselves, as *they* advance.

Roxbury, Nov. 5, 1835.


How Rollo learned to read . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
The first Lessons in Looking . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Tick,--Tick,--Tick . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
Jonas.  With a Cut . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
A little Letter  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
Rollo's Dream.  With a Cut . . . . . . . . . . . . 44
The cold Morning.  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59
How to read right  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64
Climbing up a Mountain . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77
Rollo getting ready for his Father.  With a Cut  . 80
The way to obey  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84
Rollo's Breakfast  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 88
Fictitious Stories.  With a Cut  . . . . . . . . . 93
The Fly's morning Walk . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 96
Waking up . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101
Rollo's Prayer. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 109
Bunny . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111
The Raft.  With a Cut . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116
Contrary Charles. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 120
Frost on the Windows. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 132
Shooting a Bear . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135
Jack Hildigo. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145
How to treat a Kitten . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 152
Overboard.  With a Cut. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 166
Old Things and New Things . . . . . . . . . . . . 171
Selling a Boy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 174


Should you like to know how Rollo learned to read? I will tell you. It is very hard work to learn to read, and it takes a great while to do it. I will tell you how Rollo did it.

One evening Rollo was sitting on the floor by the side of the fire, playing with his blocks. He was trying to build a meeting-house. He could make the meeting-house very well, all except the steeple, but the steeple *would* tumble down.

Presently, his father said, "Rollo, you may put your blocks into the basket, and put the basket in its place, in the closet, and then come to me."

Rollo obeyed.

Then Rollo's father took him up into his lap, and took a little book out of his pocket. Rollo was glad. He thought he was going to look at some pictures. But he was disappointed.

He was disappointed,--that is he found there were no pictures in the book, and was sorry.

His father said,

"I suppose you thought there were pictures in this book."

"Yes sir," said Rollo.

"There are none," said his father; "I have not got this book to amuse you. I am going to have you learn to read out of it, and learning to read is hard work."

Rollo was very glad when he heard this. He wanted to learn to read, so that he could read story books himself alone, and he thought that learning to read was very pleasant, easy work.

His father knew that he thought so, and therefore he said,

"I suppose you are glad that you are going to learn to read, but it is harder work and will take longer time than you think. You will get tired very often, before you have learned, and you will want to stop. But you must not stop.["]
"What," said Rollo, "must not I stop once,--at all--all the time, till I have learned to read?"

"Oh yes," said his father; "I do not mean that you must be learning to read all the time;--you will only read a little while every day. What I mean is that you must read every day, when the time comes, although you will very often think that you are tired of reading so much, and had rather play. But no matter if you are tired of it. It is your duty to learn to read and you must do it, if it is hard."

"I do not think I shall be tired," said Rollo.

"Very well,--you can see. Only remember if you should be tired, you must not say so, and ask not to read."

Rollo's father then opened the book and showed Rollo that it was full of letters,--large letters, and small letters, and a great many little words in columns. Do you know what a column is? There was also some very easy reading in large print, but no pictures.

Then Rollo's father explained the plan by which he was to learn to read. His sister Mary was to teach him. Mary was to call him to her every morning at nine o'clock, and teach him his letters for a quarter of an hour. She was to do the same at eleven, and at three, and at five. The rest of the time Rollo was to have for play. Mary was to take three or four of the letters at a time, and tell Rollo the names of them, and make them on the slate, and let him try to make them, and let him try to find them in books, until he should know them perfectly. She was to keep an account of every day, marking the days when, for any reasons, she did not hear him, and putting down, each day, the letters he learned that day, and as soon as he had learned all his letters she was to tell his father.

If he should at any time refuse to come when she called him, or come sullenly or in ill humor,--or if he disobeyed her, or made her any trouble, wilfully, she was to put the book away at once, and not teach him any more that day, but at night tell his father.

When Rollo's father had thus explained the whole plan, he said,

"Now, Mary and Rollo, this is a hard task for both of you, I know. I hope you will both be patient and persevering,--and be kind to one another. Mary, you must remember that Rollo is a small boy, and cannot learn as fast as you might expect or wish,--you must be kind to him and patient. Be sure also to be punctual and regular in calling him at the exact hour. And Rollo you must be patient too and obedient, and you must remember that though it is hard work to learn to read, you will be very glad when you shall have learned. You will then enjoy a great many happy hours in sitting down by the fire in your little chair, and reading story books.["]

Soon after this Rollo went to bed thinking a great deal of his first lesson, which he was going to take the next day.

Do you not think now that it would have been better if Rollo's father had tried to make learning to read more amusing to his little boy? He might have got a book with letters and pictures too,--or he might have bought some blocks and cards with letters on them, and let Rollo learn by playing with them. That would have been more amusing. Do you think that would have been a better way? I think it would not. For if Rollo had begun to learn to read, expecting to find it play, he would have been disappointed and discouraged a great deal sooner. He might have looked at the pictures in his book, or played with the cards or the blocks, but that would not have taught him the letters on them. It was better that he should understand distinctly at the beginning that learning to read was hard work, and that he must attend to it *as a duty;* thus he would be prepared for it as it was, and find it more and more pleasant as he went along. But if he had expected that it would be play, he would only have been disappointed, and that would have made it harder, and made it take a great deal longer time.

Rollo liked reading very well for a day or two, but he soon became tired. He thought the quarter of an hour was very long, and that Mary always called him too soon. He was mistaken however in this, for Mary was always very exact and punctual. He found too that he got along very slowly. It was a good many days before he could say the first few letters, and he thought it would take a great while before he should have learned them all.

One pleasant morning, when he was digging with his little hoe, in the yard, Mary called him, and for a minute or two he had a great mind not to come. But then he recollected that if he did not, she would immediately put the book away and tell his father at night, so he threw down the hoe and ran. But it was very hard for him to do it.

In a few days one thing surprised both Mary and Rollo. It was that he learned the second four or five letters a great deal sooner than he did the first. They did not understand the reason of this. The third lesson was learned sooner still, and so on, the farther they went down the alphabet the faster Rollo learned.

One evening when Rollo had learned about half his letters, his father took him up in his lap and took a small round box out of his pocket with a pretty picture on the top. Besides the picture there were three letters; they were these, A, B, C. Rollo looked a moment at the picture, but he was more pleased with the letters than the picture. He was very much pleased to see those letters,--the very letters which he had learned, on the top of such a pretty box.

"Oh there is A," said he, "and B, and C, on the top of this pretty box. How funny!"

Then his father opened the box and poured out a great many beautiful round cards into Rollo's lap. There were beautiful, painted pictures on one side and letters on the other. Rollo was most interested in looking at the letters.

"Oh, father," said he, "what beautiful cards! Why did you not buy them at first, and let me learn my letters with them?"

"Because," said his father, "if I had bought them at first, when you did not know any of your letters, you would have not been pleased with any thing but the pictures, and rolling the cards about the floor. Or if I had given them to Mary to teach you your letters from them, then you would not have liked them any better than your book. But by letting you learn for a time from your book, till you know a good many letters, you can understand the cards, and you *notice* the letters on them, and when you play with them you will remember a great many letters on them and thus you will become more familiar with them."

"With what?" said Rollo.

"With the letters," said his father.

"What is *familiar with them?*" asked Rollo.

"Why you will know them better, and remember them longer,--and you will know them quicker when you see them again in books. That is being familiar with them. Do you not think you will like this box of cards a great deal better now, to play with, than before you knew any letters?"

"Yes sir, I was very glad to see the A B C on it."

After this Rollo played a great deal with his cards, and though he did not learn any new letters from them, they helped him to become *familiar* with the letters as fast as he learned them from his book.

The last part of the alphabet Rollo learned very fast, and at length one evening Mary and Rollo came together to their father, telling him with smiling faces that he had learned them all.

Then Rollo's father gave him a long lesson in reading little words;--he gave him a great many columns, so many, that it would take a good many weeks to read them all. Mary was to hear him four times every day. Then he read the easy sentences over in the end of his book, and a good many others in another book, until at last he could read very well alone. It took a long time however to do all this reading. When he finished learning to read he was more than a year older than he was when he began. The stories in this book are for him to read, so that he may learn to read better. You can read them too. Farther on in this book I shall tell you more about Rollo.

In reading these stories Rollo found a great many words which he could not understand. He always asked some one what these words meant, for he wanted to understand what he read perfectly. His father advised him to read his story book aloud too, unless when it would disturb some one, because by reading aloud he would learn faster.


When the baby was very little indeed and first began to open his eyes, his mother saw that the bright light of the windows dazzled them, and gave him pain; so she shut the blinds and put down the curtains.

When the baby was so very little, he did not know how to look about at the things which were around him. He had not learned to move his eyes steadily from one thing to another. He could not take hold of any thing, either, with his hands.

He did not know that his hands were made to take hold of things with. His mother held a handsome ivory ring before him, and endeavored to make him see it and take it. She put it in his hand, but he did not know how to hold it, and it dropped upon the floor.

The baby was very weak too. He could not walk nor sit up, nor even hold up his head. Unless his mother held his head for him it would drop down and hang upon his shoulder. Once she laid him down upon the bed and she went away a minute or two. While she was gone he rolled over on his face, and was so weak that he could not get back again. I do not think he knew how to try. His mother came back and lifted him up, or perhaps he would have been stifled.

One day his mother said, "Oh how many things I have got to teach my little child. I must teach him to look, and to hold up his head, and to take things in his hands, and I must do all these things while he is quite a little baby."

She thought she would first teach him *to look*. So she let in a little light and when he was quiet and still, she held him so that he could see it. But he did not seem to notice it, and pretty soon he went to sleep.

The next day she tried it again; and again on the following day, and soon she found that he would look very steadily at the white curtain, or at the place where the sun shone upon the wall. She did not yet try to make him look at *little things*, for she knew she could not hope to make him see little things till he had learned to notice something large and bright.

When Samuel was lying in his mother's lap, looking steadily at something, she was always careful not to move him, or to make any noise, or to do any thing which would distract his attention. She knew that children were always puzzled with having two things to think of at a time, and she was afraid that if while he was thinking of the light and trying to look at it, he should hear voices around him, he would stop thinking of the light, and begin to wonder what that noise could be.

In about a week, Samuel had learned his lesson very well. He could look pretty steadily at a large bright spot when it was still. Then his mother thought she would try to teach him to look at something smaller. She therefore asked his father to buy her a large bright orange, and one day when he was lying quietly in her lap, she held it up before him. But he would not notice it; he seemed to be looking at the window beyond.

Then his mother turned her chair gently round, and sat with her back towards the window so that he could not see the window and then he looked at the orange. Presently she moved the orange slowly,--very slowly,--backwards and forwards, to teach him to follow it with his eyes. Thus the baby took his first lessons in looking.


One morning I was going to take a journey. I was going in the stage. I expected that the sleigh bells would come jingling up to the door for me at seven o'clock. So I thought that if I wished to be ready, I must get up at *six*.

I went into my little room where I was to sleep. There was a clock on the wall, by the side of my bed. It said tick,--tick,--tick. "I am glad," said I to myself, "for now I can see what o'clock it is." So I put my lamp down on the floor, and put my spectacles behind my pillow, and then laid down and went to sleep.

By and by I woke and thought I heard a little noise. I listened. It was the clock, saying tick,--tick,--tick; and I said to myself, "I wonder what o'clock it is?" So I sat up and took my spectacles from behind my pillow and put them on my nose, and looked up at the clock. The lamp which was on the floor shone upon the clock so that I could see, and I saw that it was only *three* o'clock, and I said, "Oh it is only three o'clock. It is not time for me to get up yet." So I took my spectacles off of my nose, and put them behind my pillow and laid me down again. The clock kept saying tick,--tick,--tick.

Pretty soon I went to sleep and I slept an hour. Then I awoke and said to myself, "I wonder what o'clock it is?" So I sat up and took my spectacles from behind my pillow, and put them on my nose, and looked up at the clock. The lamp which was upon the floor shone upon the clock, so that I could see, and I saw that it was only *four* o'clock, and I said, "Oh, it is only four o'clock; it is not time for me to get up yet." So I took my spectacles off of my nose, and put them behind my pillow, and laid me down again. The clock kept saying all the while, tick,--tick,--tick.

Pretty soon, I went to sleep, and slept some time. Then I woke and said to myself, "I wonder what o'clock it is?" So I sat up, and took my spectacles from behind my pillow, and put them on my nose, and looked up at the clock. The lamp which was upon the floor shone upon the clock, so that I could see, and I saw that it was only *five* o'clock, and I said, "Oh, it is only five o'clock. It is not time for me to get up yet." So I took my spectacles off of my nose, and put them behind my pillow, and laid me down again. The clock kept saying all the while, tick,--tick,--tick.

Pretty soon, I went to sleep, and slept some time. When I woke, I said to myself, "I wonder what o'clock it is?" So I sat up and took my spectacles from behind my pillow, and put them on my nose, and looked up at the clock. The lamp which was upon the floor shone upon the clock, so that I could see, and I saw that it was *six* o'clock. Then I said *now* it is time for me to get up. So I jumped up and dressed me, and looked out of the window, and there was a beautiful, bright star shining in the sky. The star was up before me.

When I was ready I opened the door to go out; but the clock still kept saying tick,--tick,--tick. I wondered what made the clock keep going so all the night and all the day, and I went back and opened the door to see. And what do you think I found? Why I found a great heavy weight hung to a string, and the string was fastened to some of the little wheels up in the clock. The weight kept pulling down and pulling down all the time, slowly, and it pulled the string down slowly, and the string made the wheels go round, and the wheels made the hands go, and some of the little wheels made that noise I heard,--tick,--tick,--tick.

What do you think happens when the weights which make the clock go get down, down, to the very bottom of the clock? Why then they have to wind them up to the top again, and they begin anew. You can support this site at no cost if you make an Amazon purchase using this link to get to Amazon: Thanks