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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

7S   PLAY

The chair he has just been besieging as a castle, or valiantly
cutting to the ground as a dragon, is taken away for the
accommodation of a morning visitor, and he is nothing
abashed ; he can skirmish by the hour with a stationary
coal-scuttle ; in the midst of the enchanted pleasance, he
can see, without sensible shock, the gardener soberly
digging potatoes for the day's dinner. He can make
abstraction of whatever does not fit into his fable ; and
he puts his eyes into his pocket, just as we hold our noses
in an unsavoury lane. And so it is, that although the
ways of children cross with those of their eiders in a hundred
places daily, they never go in the same direction nor so
much as lie in the same element. So may the telegraph
wires intersect the line of the highroad, or so might a
landscape painter and a bagman visit the same country,
and yet move in different worlds.

People struck with these spectacles cry aloud about the
power of imagination in the young. Indeed there may be
two words to that. It is, in some ways, but a pedestrian
fancy that the child exhibits. It is the grown people who
make the nursery stories ; all the children do, is jealously
to preserve the text. One out of a dozen reasons why
Robinson Crusoe should be so popular with youth, is that
it hits their level in this matter to a nicety; Crusoe was
always at makeshifts and had, in so many words, to play
at a great variety of professions ; and then the book is all
about tools, and there is nothing that delights a child so
much. Hammers and saws belong to a province of life
that positively calls for imitation. The juvenile lyrical
drama, of the most ancient Thespian model, wherein the
trades of mankind are successively simulated to the run-
ning burthen * On a cold and frosty morning/ gives a
good instance of the artistic taste in children. And this
need for overt action and lay figures testifies to a defect
in the child's imagination which prevents him from
carrying out his novels in the privacy of his own heart.
He does not yet know enough of the world and men. His
experience is incomplete. That stage-wardrobe and scene-
room that we call the memory is so ill provided, that he
can overtake few combinations and body out few stories,