Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Browse all available works of Israel Zangwill > Text of Small Boy

An essay by Israel Zangwill

The Small Boy

Title:     The Small Boy
Author: Israel Zangwill [More Titles by Zangwill]

A plague on both your Houses of Parliament! They legislate day and night, yet leave our lives unmodified. For our lives revolve on the pivot of custom, and our everyday movements are not political. The real ruler of England is the small boy of the streets! And, in truth, is it not so? By the unphilosophic regarded as akin to vermin, existing for the greater confusion of theologians, the small boy looms large to the man of insight, as the true conservator of custom--the one efficient _custos morum_. He it is who regulates the lengths to which we may go in eccentricity, and, above all, in hair:

Get your hair cut!

He is particular to a shade about clothes, and has a nice taste in hats. One wonders how he acquired it. His patriotic proclivity, his hostility to national costumes other than English, his preference for uncoloured complexions--this one may understand; but his aesthetic instinct is a problem for Weismann. As the interpreter of the conventions, he is of a cast-iron rigidity, for is he not a child of Mrs. Grundy--his mother's own boy? He has no exceptions--it is "one law and one measure." He is the scavenger of manners, as the Constantinople street-dog is of gutters; a natural _police des moeurs_, infinitely more efficient than any artificial organisation; an all-ramifying association created to keep the bounds of social order, on duty at every street corner, alert to check every outbreak of individuality. Do ladies aspire to ride bicycles? Or wear bloomers? There is the small boy to face. It is a question for him. Conciliate him, and you may laugh at the pragmatic. His, too, is a healthy barbarism, beneficent in its action, that thinks scorn of eyeglasses and spectacles, and leads him to denounce quadruple vision, as, indeed, all departure from the simplicities of physical perfection. A human scarecrow he abhors, and will follow such an one through six streets to express his disapprobation. Extremes of size? whether of tallness or shortness? offend him equally. Whitman was not kinder to "the average man." Nor is the small boy's influence limited to sumptuary and corporeal censorship: by taking up certain songs he "makes" the nation's ballads, and every one knows what that means. Let me train a nation's small boys, I care not who makes its laws. O small boy, true sovereign of England, I take off my hat to thee!--to show thee the maker's name in the lining, and satify thy anxious inquiries as to where I got it.

[The end]
Israel Zangwill's essay: Small Boy