Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/342

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
326
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

very making of what we call sense-experience. We learn to read the visual symbol, a splash of light or color, now as a stone, now as a pool of water, just because imagination drawing from past experience supplies the interpretation, the group of qualities which composes a hard, solid mass, or a soft, yielding liquid.

Children's fanciful readings of things, as when they call the twinkling star a (blinking) eye, are but an exaggeration of what we all do. Their imagination carries them very much further. Thus they may attribute to the stone they see a sort of stone-soul, and speak of it as feeling tired.

This lively way of envisaging objects is, as we know, similar to that of primitive folk, and has something of crude Nature-poetry in it. This tendency is abundantly illustrated in the metaphors which play so large a part in children's talk. As everybody knows, a child describes what he sees or hears by analogy to something he knows already. This is called by some, rather clumsily, I think, apperceiving. For example, a small, oscillating compass needle was called by a child a bird, on the ground of a faint likeness of form and fluttering movement. M. Taine tells us of a little girl who called the eyelids prettily eye-curtains. Distant and unknown things, for example the moon, will naturally come in for much of this vivid imaginative interpretation. Thus the moon when reduced to a crescent was said by a boy of three to be broken. American children described it ingeniously as half stuck or half buttoned into the sky.[1] Similarly with sounds. The spluttering of coals in the fire was called barking by a little girl of four and a half years. The American children already referred to described thunder variously as a throwing down of toys, a shooting in of coals, and so forth.

This play of imagination in connection with apprehending objects of sense has a strong vitalizing or personifying element. That is to say, children, in common with uncivilized peoples, see what we regard as lifeless and soulless as alive and conscious. Thus a child will say a tree rustling in a cold wind "shivers." The tree is apprehended or "apperceived" as having sensation and behaving as the child itself behaves. Moving things come in for most of this personifying impulse. A little girl of five, pleased at being aide to manage her hoop, said: "Mamma, I do b'lieve this hoop must be alive, it's so sensible; it goes where I want it to."

Children's fear of feathers, of which I have several instances, and which they have in common with uncultured folk, is proba-


  1. These were children entering the primary school of Boston, whose ideas are described by Dr. Stanley Hall, in an article on The Contents of Children's Minds, in the Princeton Review.