The Tar Baby and the Tomahawk: Race and Ethnic Images in American Children's Literature, 1880-1939


A Chapter on Soap-Bubbles.

"A SOAP-BUBBLE" is an uncouth, inelegant name for such an ethereal fairy sphere. It is such a common, every-day sight to us, we seldom give it much attention, or realize how wonderful and beautiful is this fragile, transparent, liquid globe. Its spherical form is typical of perfection, and the ever-changing, prismatic colors of its iridescent surface charm the eye.

It is like a beautiful dream; we are entranced while it lasts, but in an instant is vanishes, and leaves nothing to mark its former existence excepting the memory of its lovliness.

Few persons can stand by and watch another blowing bubbles without being seized with an uncontrollable desire to blow one for themselves. There is a peculiar charm or pleasure in the very act, which few persons who have known it ever outgrow.

In the accompanying illustration are shown several kinds of soap bubbles and a variety of ways of deriving amusement from them.

It is generally known that a bubble will burst if it touch any hard or smooth surface, but upon the carpet or a woolen cloth it will roll or bounce merrily.

If you take advantage of this fact, you can with a woolen cloth make bubbles dance and fly around as lively as a juggler's gilt balls, and you will be astonished to find what apparent rough handling these fragile bubbles will stand when you are careful not to allow them to touch anything but the woolen cloth.

It may be worth remarking that the coarser the soap the brighter the bubbles will be. The compound known as "soft soap" is the best for the purpose.

One of the pictures shows how to transform your soap-bubble into an aerial vapor-balloon.

If you wish to try this pretty experiment, procure a rubber tube, say a yard long, and with an aperture small enough to require considerable stretching to force it over the gas-burner. After you have stretched one end so as to fit tightly over the burner, wrap the stem of a clay pipe with wet paper, and push it into the other end of the tube, where it must fit so as to allow no gas to escape. Dip the bowl of your pipe in the suds and turn the gas on; the force of the gas will be sufficient to blow your bubble for you, and as the gas is lighter than the air, your bubble, when freed from the pipe, will rapidly ascent, and never stop in its upward course until it perishes.

Another group in our picture illustrates how old Uncle Enos, an aged negro down in Kentucky, used to amuse the children by making smoke-bubbles.

Did you ever see smoke-bubbles? In one the white-blue smoke, in beautiful curves, will curl and circle under its crystal shell. Another will possess a lovely opalescent pearly appearance, and if one be thrown from the pipe wile quite small and densely filled with smoke, it will appear like an opaque polished ball of milky whiteness. It is always a great frolic for the children when they catch Uncle Enos smoking his corn-cob pipe. They gather around his knee with their bowl of soap-suds and bubble-pipe, and while the good-natured old man takes a few lusty whiffs from his corn-cob, and fills his capacious mouth with tobacco-smoke, the children dip their pipe in the suds, start their bubble, and pass it to Uncle Enos. All then stoop down and watch the gradual growth of that wonderful smoke-bubble! and when "Dandy," the dog, chases and catches on of these bubbles, how the children laugh to see the astonished and injured look upon his face, and what fun it is to see him sneeze and rub his nose with his paw!

The figure at the bottom, in the corner of the illustration, shows you how to make a giant-bubble. It is done by first covering your hands well with soap-suds, then placing them together so as to form a cup, leaving a small opening at the bottom. All that is then necessary is to hold your mouth about a foot from your hands and blow into them. I have made bubbles in this way twice the size of my head. These bubbles are so large that they invariably burst upon striking the floor, being unable to withstand the concussion.

Although generally considered a trivial amusement, only fit for young children, blowing soap-bubbles has been an occupation appreciated and indulged in by great philosophers and men of science, and wonderful discoveries in optics and natural philosophy have been made with only a clay pipe and a bowl of soap-suds.