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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

36                           CHILD'S  PLAY

like a story in the Arabian Nights ; they read to us rather
like the history of a period in which we ourselves had
taken part, where we come across many unfortunate
passages, and find our own conduct smartly reprimanded.
And then the child, mind you, acts his parts. He does
not merely repeat them to himself ; he leaps, he runs, and
sets the blood agog over all his body. And so his play
breathes him ; and he no sooner assumes a passion than
he gives it vent. Alas ! when we betake ourselves to our
intellectual form of play, sitting quietly by the fire or
lying prone in bed, we rouse many hot feelings for which
we can find no outlet. Substitutes are not acceptable to
the mature mind, which desires the thing itself ; and even
to rehearse a triumphant dialogue with one's enemy,
although it is perhaps the most satisfactory piece of play
still left within our reach, is not entirely satisfying, and
is even apt to lead to a visit and an interview which may
be the reverse of triumphant after all.

In the child's world of dim sensation, play is all in all.
* Making believe ' is the gist of his whole life, and he cannot
so much as take a walk except in character. I could not
learn my alphabet without some suitable mise-en-scine,
and had to act a business man in an office before I could
sit down to my book. Will you kindly question your
mem'ory, and find out how much you did, work or pleasure,
in good faith and soberness, and for how much you had
to cheat yourself with some invention ? I remember, as
though it were yesterday, the expansion of spirit, the dignity
and self-reliance, that came with a pair of mustachios in
burnt cork, even when there was none to see. Children
are even content to forego what we call the realities, and
prefer the shadow to the substance. When they might
be speaking intelligibly together, they chatter senseless
gibberish by the hour, and are quite happy because they
are making believe to speak French. I have said already
how even the imperious appetite of hunger suffers itself
to be gulled and led by the nose with the fag end of an old
song. And it goes deeper than this : when children are
together even a meal is felt as an interruption in the
business of life; and they must find some imaginative