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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

38                            CHILD'S  PLAY

And thus cricket, which is a mere matter of dexterity,
palpably about nothing and for no end, often fails to
satisfy infantile craving. It is a game, if you like, but not
a game of play. You cannot tell yourself a story about
cricket; and the activity it calls forth can be justified on
no rational theory. Even football, although it admirably
simulates the tug and the ebb and flow of battle, has pre-
sented difficulties to the mind of young sticklers after
verisimilitude ; and I knew at least one little boy who was
mightily exercised about the presence of the ball, and
had to spirit himself up, whenever he came to play, with
an elaborate story of enchantment, and take the missile
as a sort of talisman bandied about in conflict between
two Arabian nations.

To think of such a frame of mind is to become disquieted
about the bringing up of children. Surely they dwell in
a mythological epoch, and are not the contemporaries
of their parents. What can they think of them ? what
can they make of these bearded or petticoated giants who
look down upon their games ? who move upon a cloudy
Olympus, following unknown designs apart from rational
enjoyment ? who profess the tenderest solicitude for
children, and yet every now and again reach down out of
their altitude and terribly vindicate the prerogatives of
age 1 Off goes the child, corporally smarting, but morally
rebellious. Were there ever such unthinkable deities as
parents ? I would give a great deal to know what, in nine
cases out of ten, is the child's unvarnished feeling. A
sense of past cajolery; a sense of personal attraction, at
best very feeble; above all, I should imagine, a sense of
terror for the untried residue of mankind : go to make up
the attraction that he feels. No wonder, poor little heart,
with such a weltering world in front of him, if he clings
to the hand he knows ! The dread irrationality of the
whole affair, as it seems to children, is a thing we are all
too ready to forget. ' Oh, why/ I remember passionately
wondering, ' why can we not all be happy and devote
ourselves to play ?' And when children do philosophize,
I believe it is usually to very much the same purpose.

One thing, at least, comes very clearly out of these