Elizabeth Ann listened to this statement with a very queer, startled expression on her face, as though she hadn’t understood the words. Now for a moment she stood staring up in Aunt Abigail’s face, and yet not seeing her at all, because she was thinking so hard. She was thinking! “Why! There were real people living when the Declaration of Independence was signed–real people, not just history people–old women teaching little girls how to do things–right here in this very room, on this very floor–and the Declaration of Independence just signed!”
To tell the honest truth, although she had passed a very good examination in the little book on American history they had studied in school, Elizabeth Ann had never to that moment had any notion that there had ever been really and truly any Declaration of Independence at all. It had been like the ounce, living exclusively inside her schoolbooks for little girls to be examined about. And now here Aunt Abigail, talking about a butter-pat, had brought it to life!
It is a shame that history is ever made dry and tedious, or offered as a chronicle almost exclusively of politics, war, and social issues, when, of course, it is the full sweep of human experience: politics, war, and social issue to be sure, but also music, science, religion, medicine, the way things are made, new ideas, high attainments in every field, money, the weather, love, loss, endless ambiguities and paradoxes and small towns you never heard of. History is a spacious realm. There should be no walls.
“Thou hast set my feet in a large room” should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking — the strain would be too great — but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest… The question is not, — how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education — but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?