Once when I was six years old I saw a magnificent picture in a book called True Stories of the Virgin Forest. It showed a boa constrictor swallowing a wild beast. Here is a copy of the drawing. (See book for image.)
In the book it said: 'Boa constrictors swallow their prey whole, without chewing. Afterwards they are unable to move, and they digest by going to sleep for six months.'
This made me think a lot about the adventures of the jungle and, eventually, I succeeded with a coloured pencil in making my first drawing. My Drawing Number One. It looked like this:
(See book for image.)
I showed my masterpiece to the grown-ups, and asked if my drawing frightened them.
'Why would a hat frighten anyone?' they answered.
My drawing was not of a hat. It was of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. So then I drew the inside of the boa constrictor, for the benefit of the grown-ups. (Grown-ups always need explanations.) My Drawing 'Number Two looked like this: (See book for image.)
The grown-ups now advised me to give up drawing boa constrictors altogether, from the inside or the outside, and devote myself instead to geography, history, arithmetic and grammar. So it was that, at the age of six, I gave up a wonderful career as a painter. I had been discouraged by the failure of my Drawing Number One and my Drawing Number Two. Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is exhausting for children always and forever to be giving explanations.
I had to choose a different career, then, so I learned how to fly aeroplanes. I have flown all over the world. And geography, I will admit, has served me very well. At a glance I can distinguish China from Arizona. Which is very useful ifyou get lost in the night.
In the course of my life I have therefore had many dealings with many important people. I have lived a great deal among grown-ups. I have observed them from close up. This has not greatly improved my opinion of them.
Whenever I came across one who seemed to me at all clear-headed, I would try showing my Drawing Number One, which I always kept by me. I wanted to find out if this was somebody with real understanding. But the answer would always be: 'That is a hat.' In which case I would not talk to that person about boa constrictors, or virgin forests, or stars. I would place myself on their level. I would talk about bridge and golf, about politics and neckties. And the grown-up would be very pleased to have made the acquaintance of such a sensible fellow.