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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

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8  JfLAY                            39

considerations ; that whatever we are to expect at the
hands of children, it should not be any peddling exactitude
about matters of fact. They walk in a vain show, and
among mists and rainbows ; they are passionate after
dreams and unconcerned about realities; speech is a
difficult art not wholly learned ; and there is nothing in
then- own tastes or purposes to teach them what we mean
by abstract truthfulness. When a bad writer is inexact,
even if he can look back on half a century of years, we
charge him with incompetence and not with dishonesty.
And why not extend the same allowance to imperfect
speakers ? Let a stockbroker be dead stupid about poetry
or a poet inexact in the details of business, and we excuse
them, heartily from blame. But show us a miserable,
unbreeched, human entity, whose whole profession it is to
take a tub for a fortified town and a shaving-brush for the
deadly stiletto, and who passes three-fourths of his time
in a dream and the rest in open, self-deception, and we
expect him to be as nice upon a matter of fact as a
scientific expert bearing evidence. Upon my heart, I
think it less than decent. You do not consider how little
the child sees, or how swift he is to weave what he has seen
into bewildering fiction; and that he cares no more for
what you call truth, than you for a gingerbread dragoon.
I am reminded, as I write, that the child is very inquiring
as to the precise truth of stories. But indeed this is a
very different matter, and one bound up with the subject
of play, and the precise amount of playfulness, or playa-
bility, to be looked for in the world. Many such burning
questions must arise in the course of nursery education.
Among the fauna of his planet, win'ch already embraces
the pretty soldier and the terrifying Irish beggar-man, is,
or is not, the child to expect a Bluebeard or a Cormoran 1
Is he, or is he not, to look out for magicians, kindly and
potent ? May he, or may he not, reasonably hope to be
cast away upon a desert island, or turned to such diminu-
tive proportions that he can live on equal terms with his
lead soldiery, and go a cruise in his own toy schooner ?
Surely all these are practical questions to a neophyte
entering upon life with a view to play. Precision upon