The Fable of the Ass Who Was Taught To Whinny

by Warren Milton Smaltz

[From The Silent Worker, vol. 33, no. 5, February 1921]

There was once a farmer whom everybody called Uncle Sam. He was unusually successful in raising and training horses.  His horses were the best trained, most intelligent, and altogether the most desirable horses to be found anywhere.  Naturally he came to have more than local fame on this account.  And as is to be expected, his horses were by no means unconscious of their own excellence.  On the contrary, they grew quite vain and egotistical, and imagined every horse who was not born or bred under Uncle Sam to be more or less inferior and gauche.

As time passed, these horses developed among themselves a lot of faddists, reformers, uplifters, and philanthropists. For were they not the salt of the earth?  And being so, was it not their heaven set duty to teach them all to be unto them?

Wherefore it came to pass that one day Uncle Sam became possessor of an excellent ass who was most diligent in his work, very modest in demeanor, and quite unassuming in his ways.  "He looks lifeless and uninteresting and his bray is certainly very unpleasant, " said Uncle Sam to his neighbor.  "But he can do more hard work than any two horses I have ever seen."

As soon as the horses had had time to recover from their surprise and disgust over the advent of the ass in their refined community, they took counsel among themselves as to the best course to pursue.  They unanimously agreed among themselves that the poor ass, although very well able to work and ear his livelihood, was deficient in culture and the refinements of society.  Accordingly, a number of more charitably inclined faddists among them volunteered to undertake the task of educating the ass.  Forthwith they acquired a new eminence as philanthropic educators.  The other horses were also exalted at the thought of subscribing to charity.

Under the enthusiastic instruction of the horses the modest ass learned quite rapidly.  First of all they taught him that to bray was a mark of inferior training.  They declared that to whiney was natural and proper because-well, just because.  And to buttress this unassailable argument they reasoned that, in order to make his way in a world of horses, he most needs whinny as all good horses do.  The ass modestly agreed that he was a perversion of nature, and that his bray was merely a "weed language" acquired probably from subsisting too much upon weeds instead of upon hay, the refined food of the horses.

As time passed he forgot entirely how to bray. But although he strove with might and main to whinny, his efforts sounded amazingly like a sneeze.  In vain he contorted his face strained his neck, and dilated his eyes and nostrils.  The result was always a sneeze. 

It was not a very great while before the horses became very properly disgusted.  "See that miserable ass," said they.  "We have donated large sums of money to charity in his behalf, and our most worthy educators have striven to improve him.  Now see how the ungrateful wretch repays our kindness."

Uncle Sam also noted changes in his ass.  Said he to his neighbor:  "I cannot for the life of me understand what has come over that ass.  He was formerly very docile and hard working, but now nothing seems good enough for him.  And it is passing strange that he never brays anymore.  Yesterday, while I was out in the fields ploughing with him, he turned around and gazed at me very queerly a number of times.  Then he acted as if a blue-bottle fly was on his neck, and sneezed all the while.  I sent for a veterinarian but he left without doing anything, saying it was clearly a case for an abenist."

Thus it came about that the horses in whom he had once awakened the divine sense of pity, now regarded him with ill-concealed disgust.  His master, whose respect he had once held, now thought of him only with mystified worry.  And his fellow asses, whom he occasionally encountered, treated him as a parish, for was it not a known fact that he could not bray?

The moral of this fable may not be very clear, but it seems to some concerned with oralism, and the education of the deaf.