Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/780

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

will has directly very little influence. It can affect it only by disposing at its desire, when it can, the circumstances that call the instinct into exercise.

Till the end of four months, I believe, the child makes no motions that are not automatic, reflexive, or instinctive. From the fifth month, perhaps, certainly in the sixth and seventh months, imitative motions appear, the nature of which is obscure, but which are of signal importance in the point of view of psychogenesis and education. It is hardly necessary to say that I am speaking of unconscious motions instinctively imitated, not of conscious and voluntary imitation, which will come much later.

Preyer seems to me to be under a mistake when he supposes imitation to be essentially voluntary. To my mind there is no will without an expressed intention. Where is the intention, the reflecting consciousness, when an infant, hearing another one crying, begins to cry by contagion, or when a child of seven months, seeing me tapping the table or the window with my fingers, executes a poorly imitative scratching with his fingers? Nurses teach children at this age to say good-by with a motion of the hand, which their wards imitate at sight. I was recently told of a boy twelve months old on a railway train, who, when his father, to quiet him, snapped his fingers in his face, immediately imitated the motion, to the surprise of all. Rubbing my hands one day at the table, partly because of the cold, partly in idleness, I saw a little girl three years old stop eating to rub her hands too. The same child, when twenty months old, seeing an image of a crying child, by an unconscious imitation opened her own mouth. Children laugh when they see people laughing, yawn, sing, cough, spit, snuff the candle, light a paper at the fire, and pretend to read and write, long before they comprehend any of those acts. One of their greatest pleasures is to imitate the cries of animals, either spontaneously or after another. Their plays are nearly all imitations of adult life. When they hear a story that engages them, we can see them taking on, one after another, the expressions of the characters; and when they begin to speak, they repeat all they hear, including oaths and other bad words, which it horrifies us to hear from them. It is hardly correct to see in this aptitude of children to imitate a sign of inferiority, as Delaunay did. It is rather a promise of intelligence. What is called the child's docility results largely from these endowments. It learns everything, at first, by imitation—to speak, write, and sing. Unconscious imitation accounts for many facts—for the fact, among others, that in a family of several children the younger ones are often more advanced than their elders were at the same age. But this more than half animal plasticity is not really intelligence, although it announces it; and it is truly un-