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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

CHILD'S   PLAY                            35

to his own content, without some external aid. He is at
the experimental stage ; he is not sure how one would
feel in certain circumstances ; to make sure, he must
come as near trying it as his means permit. And so here
is young heroism with a wooden sword, and mothers
practise their kind vocation over a bit of jointed stick.
It may be laughable enough just now; but it is these
same people and these same thoughts that, not long hence
when they are on the theatre of life, will make you weep
and tremble. For children think very much the same
thoughts and dream the same dreams as bearded men and
marriageable women. No one is more romantic. Fame
and honour, the love of young men and the love of mothers,
the business man's pleasure in method, all these and others
they anticipate and rehearse in their play hours. Upon
us, who are further advanced and fairly dealing with the
threads of destiny, they only glance from time to time
to glean a hint for their own mimetic reproduction. Two
children playing at soldiers are far more interesting to each
other than one of the scarlet beings whom both are busy
imitating. This is perhaps the greatest oddity of all.
1 Art for art' is their motto, and the doings of grown folk
are only interesting as the raw material for play. Not
Theophile Gautier, not Flaubert, can look more callously
upon life, or rate the reproduction more highly over the
reality; and they will parody an execution, a deathbed,
or the funeral of the young man of Nain, with all the
cheerfulness in the world.

The true parallel for play is not to be found, of course,
in conscious art, which, though it be derived from play, is
itself an abstract, impersonal thing, and depends largely
upon philosophical interests beyond the scope of childhood.
It is when we make castles in the air and personate the
leading character in our own romances, that we return
to the spirit of our first years. Only, there are several
reasons why the spirit is no longer so agreeable to indulge.
Nowadays, when we admit this personal element into our
divagations we are apt to stir up uncomfortable and
sorrowful memories, and remind ourselves sharply of old
wounds. Our day-dreams can no longer lie all in the air