Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/339

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STUDIES OF CHILDHOOD.

STUDIES OF CHILDHOOD.

I.—THE AGE OF IMAGINATION.

By JAMES SULLY, M. A., LL. D.,

GROTE PROFESSOR OF THE PHILOSOPHY OF MIND AND LOGIC AT THE UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, LONDON.

ONE of the few things we seemed to be certain of with respect to child nature was that it is fancy-full. Childhood, we all know, is the age for dreaming, for decking out the as yet unknown world with the gay colors of imagination, for living a life of play or happy make-believe. So that nothing seems more childlike in the "Childhood of the World" than the myth-making impulse, the overflow of fancy to hide the nakedness of things.

Yet even here, perhaps, we have been content with loose generalization in place of careful observation and analysis of facts. For one thing the play of infantile imagination is probably much less uniform than is often supposed. There seem to be matter-of-fact children who can not rise buoyantly to a bright fancy. Mr. Ruskin, of all men, has recently told us that when a child he was incapable of acting a part or telling a tale; that he never knew a child "whose thirst for visible fact was at once so eager and so methodic."[1] We may accept the report of Mr. Ruskin's memory as proving that he did not idle away his time in day dreams, but by long and close observation of running water and the like laid the foundations of that fine knowledge of the appearances of Nature which everywhere shines through his writings. Yet one may be permitted to doubt whether a writer who shows not only so rich and graceful a style but so truly poetic an invention could have been in every respect an unimaginative child.

Perhaps the truth will turn out to be the paradox that most children are at once matter-of-fact observers and dreamers, passing from the one to the other as the mood takes them and with a facility which grown people may well envy. My own observations go to show that the prodigal output of fancy, the reveling in myth and story, are often characteristic of a period of childhood only. We are apt to lump together such different levels of experience and capacity under that abstraction "the child." The wee mite of three and a half years, spending more than half its day in trying to realize all manner of pretty, odd, startling fancies about animals, fairies, and the rest, is something vastly unlike the boy of six or seven whose mind is now bent on understanding the make and go of machines and of that big machine the world.

  1. Preterita, p. 76.