I’d be a Butterfly” has a theme not unfamiliar to reader of Parley’s Magazine. The periodical was reprinted at least a couple times; the illustration for this piece was altered so as not to offend the more refined tastes of later decades—it also downplays poor Harry’s motivation.

“I’d Be a Butterfly,” by “a Juvenile Correspondent” (from Parley’s Magazine, Saturday, May 25, 1833; pp. 89-91)
boy gazing out a window

“I’d be a butterfly!” Such were the words of little Harry Ramble, as he stood at the school-room window, one summer forenoon, and looked out upon the green fields and rustling trees. A bright butterfly was fluttering among the leaves under his eye; and on one side hung a cage, with a Canary bird in it. Harry looked at the bird and then at the butterfly, and he decidedly preferred the lot of the latter.

“I can’t see the use of being pent up, this way, in school,” continued Harry; “what was the sunshine made for, if not to bask in! And what were the cherries made for, if not to be eaten! But here we must stay, the best part of the day, and not look upon the clear blue sky. And if we miss a word of our lessons, why we must be thrashed for it. Poor John Bluster is having it now; and my turn will come next, I suppose. Oh! I’d be a butterfly.”

I have written the very words that Harry uttered, and my young readers will perceive how foolish they look in print. Indeed, I believe that Harry himself will be ashamed of them, when he sees them.

Harry never had any great fondness for his book, and, on a bright sun-shiny day, he was more averse to it than ever. He longed to be in the green woods, searching for ber-

p. 90

ries, or standing on the pebbly beach, and skipping the stones over the smooth water. When told to get his lesson, he would fix his eyes upon his book, but permit his thoughts to wander far away from the subject before him.

One night, Harry came home, and laid his complaints before his father. The idle boy tried to convince him, that there was no use of schools, and said that he should be much happier, if he had no lessons to get. Mr. Ramble heard his son’s reasonings with patience, and was about to expose the folly and childishness of them, when another plan entered his mind. He remembered that experience was better than precept, and determined to give Harry a practical lesson, which might convince him that he was in the wrong. The indulgent parent then addressed his son in the following words.

“Well, Harry, you have made a discovery. Here for these thousand years, the good people of the world have been doing, what you have found to be wholly unnecessary. They have worked, when they would have enjoyed themselves better, if they had remained idle. Schools have been established, when there was no use for them; and boys have been made to study, when they would be happier, if there were no such thing as study. You are a bright boy, Harry; come hither. You shall prove by your own example, that what you say is true. You shall leave school this very day. You shall follow your own pleasure. You shall not be pent up from the sunshine in a dark room. You shall roam in the open air, and pluck the bright flowers, and lay at full length, on the fragrant grass. Harry, you shall be a butterfly.”

For a long time, Harry could not believe that his father’s permission was given in earnest. When satisfied, however, that he might leave school if he wished to, he clapped his hands with joy! He thought that he should now be the happiest creature alive. He spent the rest of the day in idleness, and the next morning arose at a late hour, and went down into the parlor. He there contented himself with a cold breakfast, and then tried to think of some amusement for the day.

The forenoon was spent by Harry in swinging on a high gate; but, it unfortunately happened, that just as he was going to jump off, the hinges of the gate broke, and down it came upon him to the ground. He limped away into the house, but concealed his pain from his parents. After dinner, he collected a little pile of stones, and stood up to throw them at a mark. He had continued this sport but a little while, when one of the stones glanced, and instead of reaching the mark, took a peep into the kitchen window, and broke a pane of glass. Harry felt rather sorry at this accident, which spoiled his afternoon’s play. He went to bed at an early hour, but did not rise any earlier than he rose, the morning before.

The third day of his liberation from school, was a disastrous one to poor Harry. He had gone into the fields to shoot at birds, with his bow and arrow. All at once, he saw a mad bull, running and leaping towards him. He threw down his bow and arrow, and run away as fast as he could. After him came the bull, roaring and plunging, and levelling his horns. Harry was so frightened, that he could not see the path before him. He stumbled and fell into a ditch. The bull leaped right over his head, and went on his way.

Harry felt grateful for his escape, but found himself in a situation, that was not

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very comfortable. He was up to his shoulders in mud and water, and he was afraid to get out, even if he had been able to; because the bull might chase him again. There he remained for several hours, till at last the owner of the bull happening to pass by, took him out from the ditch. Unfortunate Harry! I recollect, that I met him, as I was returning from school. He was walking along at a curious pace, and his arms were stretched apart, so that the water might drip from them upon the ground. His shoes were gone, and his stockings were covered with slime. His countenance was was sad, and he was evidently not in a good humor. When he got home, his affectionate mother was quite alarmed at his appearance. But I heard his father tell him, “that he looked like any thing but a butterfly.” He was taken good care of, and put to bed.

The next day, Harry resolved to keep near the house, and not venture forth into the fields. He climbed up a cherry-tree, which was bending with its ruby burden, and there seated himself to pass the day in feasting. He devoured so many cherries, that he did not feel an appetite for dinner, and as the weather was very warm, he leaned his head against the trunk of the tree, and fell asleep. He was awaked by a sudden and violent fall. The branch, on which he sat, had given way, and dropped him on the ground. The family were startled by his screams, and coming out, they found him considerably bruised. He was taken into the house, and it was found that the fall had not only injured him, but that the cherries had made him sick. A physician was sent for. Harry was obliged to take medicine. He became quite unwell.

Four days after this accident, I visited Harry in his chamber. He was nearly recovered, and, to my surprise, I found him reading. He welcomed me, and told me that he was anxious to get well, so that he might go to school. “I have become convinced,” said he, “of my folly. It is by industry and study alone, that men become great and esteemed. And, do you know, that I used to enjoy myself more in the one little hour between our school hours, than I have done during the whole time that I have stayed away? I pray to Heaven, that my folly may be forgiven.”

Mr. Ramble witnessed with pleasure his son’s reformation. Harry again became a member of our school; and he is now at the head of his class. He often says, that there is no pleasure like that, which arises from the fulfilment of duty. And next to the duty or gratitude to our Creator, he places that of exerting, in a useful and virtuous way, the talents, which He has bestowed upon us.

[NOTE: The illustration for this piece was quietly edited, perhaps when it was reprinted for sale to those wishing to fill in back issues, or wanting to buy the magazine in bound volumes. The original illustration is reproduced above, from an issue printed in 1833; the edited version—in which the boy being beaten by the schoolmaster has been gouged out; seen below—appears in the copy reproduced as part of the early American periodicals series. Removing the boy “having it now” lessens Harry’s motivation; but the point of the story remains clear.

altered version
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