In his "Choice of Books," Frederic Harrison has said: "The most useful help to reading is to know what we shall not read, what we shall keep from that small, cleared spot in the overgrown jungle of information which we can call our ordered patch of fruit-bearing knowledge." Now, the same statement applies to our stories, and, having busied myself during the last chapter with "clearing my small spot" by cutting away a mass of unfruitful growth, I am no going to suggest what would be the best kind of seed to sow in the patch which I have "reclaimed from the jungle." Again, I repeat, I have no wish to be dogmatic and in offering suggestions as to the stories to be told, I am catering only for a group of normal school children.
My list of subjects does not pretend to cover the whole ground of children's needs, and just as I exclude the abnormal or unusual child from the scope of my warning in subjects to avoid, so do I also exclude that child from the limitation in choice of subjects to be sought, because you can offer almost any subject to the unusual child, especially if you stand in close relation to him and know his powers of apprehension. In this matter, age has very little to say; it is a question of the stage of development.
Experience has taught me that for the group of normal children, irrespective of age, the first kind of story suitable for them will contain an appeal to conditions to which the child is accustomed. The reason for this is obvious: the child, having limited experience, can only be reached by this experience, until his imagination is awakened and he is enabled to grasp through this faculty what he has not actually passed through. Before this awakening has taken place he enters the realm of fiction, represented in the story, by comparison with his personal experience. Every story and every point in the story mean more as that experience widens, and the interest varies, of course, with temperament, quickness of perception, power of visualizing and of concentration.
In "The Marsh King's Daughter," Hans Christian Andersen says: "The storks have a great many stories which they tell their little ones, all about the bogs and marshes. They suit them to their age and capacity. The young ones are quite satisfied with kribble, krabble, or some such nonsense, and find it charming; but the elder ones want something with more meaning." One of the most interesting experiments to be made in connection with this subject is to tell the same story at intervals of a year or six months to an individual child. The different incidents in the story which appeal to him (and one must watch it closely, to be sure the interest is real and not artificially stimulated by any suggestion on one's own part) will mark his mental development and the gradual awakening of his imagination. This experiment is a very delicate one and will not be infallible, because children are secretive and the appreciation is often simulated (unconsciously) or concealed through shyness or want of articulation. But it is, in spite of this, a deeply interesting and helpful experiment.
To take a concrete example: Let us suppose the story Andersen's "Tin Soldier" told to a child of five or six years. At the first recital, the point which will interest the child most will be the setting up of the tin soldiers on the table, because he can understand this by means of his own experience, in his own nursery. It is an appeal to conditions to which he is accustomed and for which no exercise of the imagination is needed, unless we take the effect of memory to be, according to Queyrat, retrospective imagination.
The next incident that appeals is the unfamiliar behavior of the toys, but still in familiar surroundings; that is to say, the unusual activities are carried on in the safe precincts of the nursery —the usual atmosphere of the child.
I quote from the text: Late in the evening the other soldiers were put in their box, and the people of the house went to bed. Now was the time for the toys to play; they amused themselves with paying visits, fighting battles and giving balls. The tin soldiers rustled about in their box, for they wanted to join the games, but they could not get the lid off. The nut- crackers turned somersaults, and the pencil scribbled nonsense on the slate.
Now, from this point onwards in the story, the events will be quite outside the personal experience of the child and there will have to be a real stretch of imagination to appreciate the thrilling and blood- curdling adventures of the tin soldier, namely, the terrible sailing down the gutter under the bridge, the meeting with the fierce rat who demands the soldier's passport, the horrible sensation in the fish's body, etc. Last of all, perhaps, will come the appreciation of the best qualities of the hero: his modesty, his dignity, his reticence, his courage and his constancy. He seems to combine all the qualities of the best soldier with those of the best civilian, without the more obvious qualities which generally attract first.
As for the love story, we must expect any child to see its tenderness and beauty, though the individual child may intuitively appreciate these qualities, but it is not what we wish for or work for at this period of child life.
This method could be applied to various stories. I have chosen the "Tin Soldier" because of its dramatic qualities and because it is marked off, probably quite unconsciously on the part of Andersen, into periods which correspond to the child's development.
In Eugene Field's exquisite little poem of "The Dinkey Bird," we find the objects familiar to the child in unusual places, so that some imagination is needed to realize that "big red sugar-plums are clinging to the cliffs beside the sea"; but the introduction of the fantastic bird and the soothing sound of amfalula tree are new and delightful sensations, quite out of the child's personal experience.
Another such instance is to be found in Mrs. W. K. Clifford's story of "Master Willie." The abnormal behavior of familiar objects, such as a doll, leads from the ordinary routine to the paths of adventure. This story is to be found in a little book called "Very Short Stories," a most interesting collection for teachers and children.
We now come to the second element we should seek in material, namely, the element of the unusual, which we have already anticipated in the story of the "Tin Soldier." This element is necessary in response to the demand of the child who expressed the needs of his fellow-playmates when he said: "I want to go to the place where the shadows are real." This is the true definition of "faerie" lands and is the first sign of real mental development in the child when he is no longer content with the stories of his own little deeds and experiences, when his ear begins to appreciate sounds different from the words in his own everyday language, and when he begins to separate his own personality from the action of the story.
George Goschen says: "What I want for the young are books and stories which do not simply deal with our daily life. I like the fancy even of little children to have some larger food than images of their own little lives, and I confess I am sorry for the children whose imaginations are not sometimes stimulated by beautiful fairy tales which carry them to worlds different from those in which their future will be passed. . .
. I hold that what removes them more or less from their daily life is better than what reminds them of it at every step." It is because of the great value of leading children to something beyond the limited circle of their own lives that I deplore the twaddling boarding-school stories written for girls and the artificially prepared public school stories for boys. Why not give them the dramatic interest of a larger stage? No account of a cricket match or a football triumph could present a finer appeal to boys and girls than the description of the Peacestead in the "Heroes of Asgaard": "This was the playground of the Æsir, where they practiced trials of skill one with another and held tournaments and sham fights. These last were always conducted in the gentlest and most honorable manner; for the strongest law of the Peacestead was that no angry blow should be struck or spiteful word spoken upon the sacred field." For my part, I would unhesitatingly give to boys and girls an element of strong romance in the stories which are told them even before they are twelve.
Miss Sewell says: "The system that keeps girls in the schoolroom reading simple stories, without reading Scott and Shakespeare and Spenser, and then hands them over to the unexplored recesses of the Circulating Library, has been shown to be the most frivolizing that can be devised." She sets forth as the result of her experience that a good novel, especially a romantic one, read at twelve or fourteen, is really a beneficial thing.
At present, so many of the children from the elementary schools get their first idea of love, if one can give it such a name from vulgar pictures displayed in the shop windows or jokes on marriage, culled from the lowest type of paper, or the proceedings of a divorce court.
What an antidote to such representation might be found in the stories of Hector and Andromache, Siegfried and Brünnehilde, Dido and Æ neas, Orpheus and Eurydice, St. Francis and St. Clare! One of the strongest elements we should introduce into our stories for children of all ages is that which calls forth love of beauty. And the beauty should stand out, not only in the delineation of noble qualities in our heroes and heroines, but in the beauty and strength of language and form.
In this latter respect, the Bible stories are of such inestimable value; all the greater because a child is familiar with the subject and the stories gain fresh significance from the spoken or winged word as compared with the mere reading. As to whether we should keep to the actual text is a matter of individual experience. Professor R. G. Moulton, whose interpretations of the Bible stories are so well known both in England and America, does not always confine himself to the actual text, but draws the dramatic elements together, rejecting what seems to him to break the narrative, but introducing the actual language where it is the most effective. Those who have heard him will realize the success of his method.
There is one Bible story which can be told with scarcely any deviation from the text, if only a few hints are given beforehand, and that is the story of Nebuchadnezzar and the Golden Image. Thus, I think it wise, if the children are to succeed in partially visualizing the story, that they should have some idea of the dimensions of the Golden Image as it would stand out in a vast plain. It might be well to compare those dimension with some building with which the child is familiar. In London, the matter is easy as the height will compare, roughly speaking, with Westminster Abbey. The only change in text I should adopt is to avoid the constant enumeration of the list of rulers and the musical instruments. In doing this, I am aware that I am sacrificing something of beauty in the rhythm, but, on the other hand, for narrative purpose the interest is not broken. The first time the announcement is made, that is, by the Herald, it should be in a perfectly loud, clear and toneless voice, such as you would naturally use when shouting through a trumpet to a vast concourse of people scattered over a wide plain, reserving all the dramatic tone of voice for the passage where Nebuchadnezzar is making the announcement to the three men by themselves. I can remember Professor Moulton saying that all the dramatic interest of the story is summed up in the words "But if not . . ." This suggestion is a very helpful one, for it enables us to work up gradually to this point, and then, as it were, unwind, until we reach the words of Nebuchadnezzar's dramatic recantation.
In this connection, it is a good plan occasionally during the story hour to introduce really good poetry, which delivered in a dramatic manner (far removed, of course, from the melodramatic), might give children their first love of beautiful form in verse. And I do not think it necessary to wait for this. Even the normal child of seven, though there is nothing arbitrary in the suggestion of this age, will appreciate the effect, if only on the ear, of beautiful lines well spoken. Mahomet has said, in his teaching advice: "Teach your children poetry: it opens the mind, lends grace to wisdom and makes heroic virtues hereditary." To begin with the youngest children of all, here is a poem which contains a thread of story, just enough to give a human interest: MILKING-TIME When the cows come home, the milk is coming; Honey's made when the bees are humming.
Duck, drake on the rushy lake, And the deer live safe in the breezy brake, And timid, funny, pert little bunny Winks his nose, and sits all sunny.—CHRISTINA ROSSETTI.
Now, in comparing this poem with some of the doggerel verse offered to small children, one is struck with the literary superiority in the choice of words. Here, in spite of the simplicity of the poem, there is not the ordinary limited vocabulary, nor the forced rhyme, nor the application of a moral, by which the artist falls from grace.
Again, Eugene Field's "Hushaby Lady," of which the language is most simple, yet the child is carried away by the beauty of the sound.
I remember hearing some poetry repeated by the children in one of the elementary schools in Sheffield which made me feel that they had realized romantic possibilities which would prevent their lives from ever becoming quite prosaic again, and I wish that this practice were more usual. There is little difficulty with the children. I can remember, in my own experience as a teacher in London, making the experiment of reading or repeating passages from Milton and Shakespeare to children from nine to eleven years of age, and the enthusiastic way they responded by learning those passages by heart. I have taken with several sets of children such passages from Milton as the "Echo Song," "Sabrina," "By the Rushy-fringed Bank," "Back, Shepherds, Back," from "Comus"; "May Morning," "Ode to Shakespeare," "Samson," "On His Blindness," etc. I even ventured on several passage from "Paradise Lost," and found "Now came still evening on" a particular favorite with the children.
It seemed even easier to interest them in Shakespeare, and they learned quite readily and easily many passages from "As You Like It," "The Merchant of Venice," "Julius Cæsar," "Richard II," "Henry IV," and "Henry V." The method I should recommend in the introduction of both poets occasionally into the story-hour would be threefold. First, to choose passages which appeal for beauty of sound or beauty of mental vision called up by those sounds; such as "Tell me where is Fancy bred," "Titania's Lullaby," "How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank." Secondly, passages for sheer interest of content, such as the Trial Scene from "The Merchant of Venice," or the Forest Scene in "As You Like It." Thirdly, for dramatic and historical interest, such as, "Men at some time are masters of their fates," the whole of Mark Antony's speech, and the scene with Imogen and her foster brothers in the Forest.
It may not be wholly out of place to add here that the children learned and repeated these passages themselves, and that I offered them the same advice as I do to all story-tellers. I discussed quite openly with them the method I considered best, trying to make them see that simplicity of delivery was not only the most beautiful but the most effective means to use and, by the end of a few months, when they had been allowed to experiment and express themselves, they began to see that mere ranting was not force and that a sense of reserve power is infinitely more impressive and inspiring than mere external presentation.
I encouraged them to criticize each other for the common good, and sometimes I read a few lines with overemphasis and too much gesture, which they were at liberty to point out that they might avoid the same error.
Excellent collections of poems for this purpose of narrative are: Mrs. P. A.
Barnett's series of "Song and Story," published by Adam Black, and "The Posy Ring," chosen and classified by Kate Douglas Wiggin and Nora Archibald Smith, published by Doubleday. For older children, "The Call of the Homeland," selected and arranged by Dr. R. P. Scott and Katharine T. Wallas, published by Houghton, Mifflin, and "Golden Numbers," chosen and classified by Kate Douglas Wiggin and Nora Archibald Smith, published by Doubleday.
I think it is well to have a goodly number of stories illustrating the importance of common-sense and resourcefulness.
For this reason, I consider the stories treating of the ultimate success of the youngest son very admirable for the purpose, because the youngest child who begins by being considered inferior to the older ones triumphs in the end, either from resourcefulness or from common- sense or from some higher quality, such as kindness to animals, courage in overcoming difficulties, etc. Thus, we have the story of Cinderella. The cynic might imagine that it was the diminutive size of her foot that insured her success. The child does not realize any advantage in this, but, though the matter need not be pressed, the story leaves us with the impression that Cinderella had been patient and industrious, and forbearing with her sisters. We know that she was strictly obedient to her godmother, and in order to be this she makes her dramatic exit from the ball which is the beginning of her triumph. There are many who might say that these qualities do not meet with reward in life and that they end in establishing a habit of drudgery, but, after all, we must have poetic justice in a fairy story, occasionally, at any rate, even if the child is confused by the apparent contradiction.
Such a story is "Jesper and the Hares." Here, however, it is not at first resourcefulness that helps the hero, but sheer kindness of heart, which prompts him first to help the ants, and then to show civility to the old woman, without for a moment expecting any material benefit from such actions. At the end, he does win on his own ingenuity and resourcefulness, and if we regret that his trickery has such wonderful results, we must remember the aim was to win the princess for herself, and that there was little choice left him. I consider that the end of this story is one of the most remarkable I have found in my long years of browsing among fairy tales. I should suggest stopping at the words: "The Tub is full," as any addition seems to destroy the subtlety of the story. Another story of this kind, admirable for children from six years and upwards, is, "What the Old Man Does is Always Right." Here, perhaps, the entire lack of common-sense on the part of the hero would serve rather as a warning than a stimulating example, but the conduct of the wife in excusing the errors of her foolish husband is a model of resourcefulness.
In the story of "Hereafter-this," we have just the converse: a perfectly foolish wife shielded by a most patient and forbearing husband, whose tolerance and common-sense save the situation.
One of the most important elements to seek in our choice of stories is that which tends to develop, eventually, a fine sense of humor in a child. I purposely use the word, "eventually," because I realize, first, that humor has various stages, and that seldom, if ever, can one expect an appreciation of fine humor from a normal child, that is, from an elemental mind. It seems as if the rough-and-tumble element were almost a necessary stage through which children must pass, and which is a normal and healthy stage; but up to now we have quite unnecessarily extended the period of elephantine fun, and, though we cannot control the manner in which children are catered to along this line in their homes, we can restrict the folly of appealing too strongly or too long to this elemental faculty in our schools. Of course, the temptation is strong because the appeal is so easy, but there is a tacit recognition that horseplay and practical jokes are no longer considered as an essential part of a child's education. We note this in the changed attitude in the schools, taken by more advanced educators, towards bullying, fagging, hazing, etc. As a reaction, then, from more obvious fun, there should be a certain number of stories which make appeal to a more subtle element, and in the chapter on the questions put to me by teachers on various occasions I speak more in detail as to the educational value of a finer humor in our stories.
At some period there ought to be presented in our stories the superstitions connected with the primitive history of the race, dealing with the fairy proper, giants, dwarfs, gnomes, nixies, brownies and other elemental beings. Andrew Lang says: "Without our savage ancestors we should have had no poetry.
Conceive the human race born into the world in its present advanced condition, weighing, analyzing, examining everything. Such a race would have been destitute of poetry and flattened by common-sense. Barbarians did the dreaming of the world." But it is a question of much debate among educators as to what should be the period of the child's life in which these stories are to be presented. I, myself, was formerly of the opinion that they belonged to the very primitive age of the individual, just as they belong to the primitive age of the race, but experience in telling stories has taught me to compromise.
Some people maintain that little children, who take things with brutal logic, ought not to be allowed the fairy tale in its more limited form of the supernatural; whereas, if presented to older children, this material can be criticized, catalogued and (alas!) rejected as worthless, or retained with flippant toleration.
While realizing a certain value in this point of view, I am bound to admit that if we regulate our stories entirely on this basis, we lose the real value of the fairy tale element. It is the one element which causes little children to wonder, simply because no scientific analysis of the story can be presented to them. It is somewhat heartrending to feel that "Jack and the Bean Stalk" and stories of that ilk are to be handed over to the critical youth who will condemn the quick growth of the tree as being contrary to the order of nature, and wonder why Jack was not playing football on the school team instead of climbing trees in search of imaginary adventures.
A wonderful plea for the telling of early superstitions to children is to be found in an old Indian allegory called, "The Blazing Mansion." An old man owned a large rambling Mansion. The pillars were rotten, the galleries tumbling down, the thatch dry and combustible, and there was only one door. Suddenly, one day, there was a smell of fire: the old man rushed out. To his horror he saw that the thatch was aflame, the rotten pillars were catching fire one by one, and the rafters were burning like tinder. But, inside, the children went on amusing themselves quite happily.
The distracted Father said: "I will run in and save my children. I will seize them in my strong arms, I will bear them harmless through the falling rafters and the blazing beams." Then the sad thought came to him that the children were romping and ignorant. "If I say the house is on fire, they will not understand me. If I try to seize them, they will romp about and try to escape. Alas! not a moment to be lost!" Suddenly a bright thought flashed across the old man's mind. "My children are ignorant," he said; "they love toys and glittering playthings. I will promise them playthings of unheard-of beauty. Then they will listen." So the old man shouted: "Children, come out of the house and see these beautiful toys! Chariots with white oxen, all gold and tinsel. See these exquisite little antelopes. Whoever saw such goats as these? Children, children come quickly, or they will all be gone!" Forth from the blazing ruin the children came in hot haste. The word, "plaything," was almost the only word they could understand.
Then the Father, rejoiced that his offspring were freed from peril, procured for them one of the most beautiful chariots ever seen. The chariot had a canopy like a pagoda; it had tiny rails and balustrades and rows of jingling bells. Milk-white oxen drew the chariot. The children were astonished when they were placed inside. Perhaps, as a compromise, one might give the gentler superstitions to very small children, and leave such a blood-curdling story as "Bluebeard" to a more robust age.
There is one modern method which has always seemed to me much to be condemned, and that is the habit of changing the end of a story, for fear of alarming the child. This is quite indefensible. In doing this we are tampering with folklore and confusing stages of development.
Now, I know that there are individual children that, at a tender age, might be alarmed at such a story, for instance, as "Little Red Riding- Hood"; in which case, it is better to sacrifice the "wonder stage" and present the story later on.
I live in dread of finding one day a bowdlerized form of "Bluebeard," prepared for a junior standard, in which, to produce a satisfactory finale, all the wives come to life again, and "live happily ever after" with Bluebeard and each other! And from this point it seems an easy transition to the subject of legends of different kinds. Some of the old country legends in connection with flowers are very charming for children, and so long as we do not tread on the sacred ground of the nature students, we may indulge in a moderate use of such stories, of which a few will be found in the List of Stories, given later.
With regard to the introduction of legends connected with saints into the school curriculum, my chief plea is the element of the unusual which they contain and an appeal to a sense of mysticism and wonder which is a wise antidote to the prosaic and commercial tendencies of today. Though many of the actions of the saints may be the result of a morbid strain of self-sacrifice, at least none of them was engaged in the sole occupation of becoming rich: their ideals were often lofty and unselfish; their courage high, and their deeds noble. We must be careful, in the choice of our legends, to show up the virile qualities rather than to dwell on the elements of horror in details of martyrdom, or on the too-constantly recurring miracles, lest we should defeat our own ends. For the children might think lightly of the dangers to which the saints were exposed if they found them too often preserved at the last moment from the punishment they were brave enough to undergo. For one or another of these reasons, I should avoid the detailed history of St. Juliana, St. Vincent, St. Quintin, St. Eustace, St. Winifred, St. Theodore, St. James the More, St. Katharine, St. Cuthbert, St. Alphage, St.
Peter of Milan, St. Quirine and Juliet, St. Alban and others.
The danger of telling stories connected with sudden conversions is that they are apt to place too much emphasis on the process, rather than on the goal to be reached. We should always insist on the splendid deeds performed after a real conversion, not the details of the conversion itself; as, for instance, the beautiful and poetical work done by St. Christopher when he realized what work he could do most effectively.
On the other hand, there are many stories of the saints dealing with actions and motives which would appeal to the imagination and are not only worthy of imitation, but are not wholly outside the life and experience even of the child.
 Having protested against the elephantine joke and the too-frequent use of exaggerated fun, I now endeavor to restore the balance by suggesting the introduction into the school curriculum of a few purely grotesque stories which serve as an antidote to sentimentality or utilitarianism. But they must be presented as nonsense, so that the children may use them for what they are intended as—pure relaxation. Such a story is that of "The Wolf and the Kids," which I present in my own version at the end of the book. I have had serious objections offered to this story by several educational people, because of the revenge taken by the goat on the wolf, but I am inclined to think that if the story is to be taken as anything but sheer nonsense, it is surely sentimental to extend our sympathy toward a caller who has devoured six of his hostess' children. With regard to the wolf being cut open, there is not the slightest need to accentuate the physical side. Children accept the deed as they accept the cutting off of a giant's head, because they do not associate it with pain, especially if the deed is presented half humorously. The moment in the story where their sympathy is aroused is the swallowing of the kids, because the children do realize the possibility of being disposed of in the mother's absence. (Needless to say, I never point out the moral of the kids' disobedience to the mother in opening the door.) I have always noticed a moment of breathlessness even in a grown-up audience when the wolf swallows the kids, and that the recovery of them "all safe and sound, all huddled together" is quite as much appreciated by the adult audience as by the children, and is worth the tremor caused by the wolf's summary action.
I have not always been able to impress upon the teachers the fact that this story must be taken lightly. A very earnest young student came to me once after the telling of this story and said in an awe- struck voice: "Do you cor-relate?" Having recovered from the effect of this word, which she carefully explained, I said that, as a rule, I preferred to keep the story quite apart from the other lessons, just an undivided whole, because it had effects of its own which were best brought about by not being connected with other lessons. She frowned her disapproval and said: "I am sorry, because I thought I would take the Goat for my nature study lesson and then tell your story at the end." I thought of the terrible struggle in the child's mind between his conscientious wish to be accurate and his dramatic enjoyment of the abnormal habits of a goat who went out with scissors, needle and thread; but I have been most careful since to repudiate any connection with nature study in this and a few other stories in my ré pertoire.
One might occasionally introduce one of Edward Lear's "Nonsense Rhymes." For instance: There was an Old Man of Cape Horn Who wished he had never been born.
So he sat in a chair Till he died of despair, That dolorous Old Man of Cape Horn.
Now, except in case of very young children, this could not possibly be taken seriously. The least observant normal boy or girl would recognize the hollowness of the pessimism that prevents an old man from at least an attempt to rise from his chair.
The following I have chosen as repeated with intense appreciation and much dramatic vigor by a little boy just five years old: There was an old man who said: "Hush! I perceive a young bird in that bush." When they said: "Is it small?" He replied, "Not at all.
It is four times as large as the bush." One of the most desirable of all elements to introduce into our stories is that which encourages kinship with animals. With very young children this is easy, because during those early years when the mind is not clogged with knowledge, the sympathetic imagination enables them to enter into the feeling of animals.
Andersen has an illustration of this point in his "Ice Maiden": "Children who cannot talk yet can understand the language of fowls and ducks quite well, and cats and dogs speak to them quite as plainly as Father and Mother; but that is only when the children are very small, and then even Grandpapa's stick will become a perfect horse to them that can neigh and, in their eyes, is furnished with legs and a tail. With some children this period ends later than with others, and of such we are accustomed to say that they are very backward, and that they have remained children for a long time. People are in the habit of saying strange things." Felix Adler says: "Perhaps the chief attraction of fairy tales is due to their representing the child as living in brotherly friendship with nature and all creatures. Trees, flowers, animals, wild and tame, even the stars are represented as comrades of children.
That animals are only human beings in disguise is an axiom in the fairy tales.
Animals are humanized, that is, the kinship between animal and human life is still keenly felt, and this reminds us of those early animistic interpretations of nature which subsequently led to doctrines of metempsychosis." I think that beyond question the finest animal stories are to be found in the Indian collections, of which I furnish a list in the last chapter.
With regard to the development of the love of Nature through the telling of stories, we are confronted with a great difficulty in the elementary schools because so many of the children have never been out of the towns, have never seen a daisy, a blade of grass and scarcely a tree, so that in giving, in the form of a story, a beautiful description of scenery, you can make no appeal to the retrospective imagination, and only the rarely gifted child well be able to make pictures while listening to a style which is beyond his everyday use.
Nevertheless, once in a while, when the children are in a quiet mood, not eager for action but able to give themselves up to the pure joy of sound, then it is possible to give them a beautiful piece of writing in praise of Nature, such as the following, taken from "The Divine Adventure," by Fiona Macleod: Then he remembered the ancient wisdom of the Gael and came out of the Forest Chapel and went into the woods. He put his lip to the earth, and lifted a green leaf to his brow, and held a branch to his ear; and because he was no longer heavy with the sweet clay of mortality, though yet of human clan, he heard that which we do not hear, and saw that which we do not see, and knew that which we do not know. All the green life was his. In that new world he saw the lives of trees, now pale green, now of woodsmoke blue, now of amethyst; the gray lives of stone; breaths of the grass and reed, creatures of the air, delicate and wild as fawns, or swift and fierce and terrible tigers of that undiscovered wilderness, with birds almost invisible but for their luminous wings, and opalescent crests.
The value of this particular passage is the mystery pervading the whole picture, which forms so beautiful an antidote to the eternal explaining of things. I think it of the highest importance for the children to realize that the best and most beautiful things cannot be expressed in everyday language and that they must content themselves with a flash here and there of the beauty which may come later. One does not enhance the beauty of the mountain by pulling to pieces some of the earthy clogs; one does not increase the impression of a vast ocean by analyzing the single drops of water. But at a reverent distance one gets a clear impression of the whole, and can afford to leave the details in the shadow.
In presenting such passages (and it must be done very sparingly), experience has taught me that we should take the children into our confidence by telling them frankly that nothing exciting is going to happen, so that they well be free to listen to the mere words. A very interesting experiment might occasionally be made by asking the children some weeks afterwards to tell you in their own words what pictures were made on their minds. This is a very different thing from allowing the children to reproduce the passage at once, the danger of which proceeding I speak of later in detail. We now come to the question as to what proportion of dramatic excitement we should present in the stories for a normal group of children. Personally, I should like, while the child is very young, I mean in main, not in years, to exclude the element of dramatic excitement, but though this may be possible for the individual child, it is quite Utopian to hope that we can keep the average child free from what is in the atmosphere. Children crave for excitement, and unless we give it to them in legitimate form, they will take it in any riotous form it presents itself, and if from our experience we can control their mental digestion by a moderate supply of what they demand, we may save them from devouring too eagerly the raw material they can so easily find for themselves.
There is a humorous passage bearing on this question in the story of the small Scotch boy, when he asks leave of his parents to present the pious little book—a gift to himself from an aunt to a little sick friend, hoping probably that the friend's chastened condition will make him more lenient towards this mawkish form of literature. The parents expostulate, pointing out to their son how ungrateful he is, and how ungracious it would be to part with his aunt's gift.
Then the boy can contain himself no longer. He bursts out, unconsciously expressing the normal attitude of children at a certain stage of development: "It's a daft book ony way: there's naebody gets kilt ent. I like stories about folk gettin' their heids cut off, or there's nae wile beasts. I I like stories about black men gettin' ate up, an' white men killin' lions and tigers an' bears an'——" Then, again, we have the passage from George Eliot's "Mill on the Floss": "Oh, dear! I wish they would not fight at your school, Tom. Didn't it hurt you?" "Hurt me? No," said Tom, putting up the hooks again, taking out a large pocketknife, and slowly opening the largest blade, which he looked at meditatively as he rubbed his finger along it. Then he added: "I gave Spooner a black eye—that's what he got for wanting to leather me. I wasn't going to go halves because anybody leathered me." "Oh! how brave you are, Tom. I think you are like Samson. If there came a lion roaring at men, I think you'd fight him, wouldn't you, Tom?" "How can a lion come roaring at you, you silly thing? There's no lions only in the shows." "No, but if we were in the lion countries—I mean in Africa where it's very hot, the lions eat people there. I can show it you in the book where I read it." "Well, I should get a gun and shoot him." "But if you hadn't a gun?—we might have gone out, you know, not thinking, just as we go out fishing, and then a great lion might come towards us roaring, and we could not get away from him. What should you do, Tom?" Tom paused, and at last turned away contemptuously, saying: "But the lion isn't coming. What's the use of talking?" This passage illustrates also the difference between the highly- developed imagination of the one and the stodgy prosaical temperament of the other. Tom could enter into the elementary question of giving his schoolfellow a black eye, but could not possibly enter into the drama of the imaginary arrival of a lion. He was sorely in need of fairy stories.
It is to this element we have to cater, and we cannot shirk our responsibilities.
William James says: "Living things, moving things or things that savor of danger or blood, that have a dramatic quality, these are the things natively interesting to childhood, to the exclusion of almost everything else, and the teacher of young children, until more artificial interests have grown up, will keep in touch with his pupils by constant appeal to such matters as these." Of course the savor of danger and blood is only one of the things to which we should appeal, but I give the whole passage to make the point clearer.
This is one of the most difficult parts of our selection, namely, how to present enough excitement for the child and yet include enough constructive element which will satisfy him when the thirst for "blugginess" is slaked.
And here I should like to say that, while wishing to encourage in children great admiration and reverence for the courage and other fine qualities which have been displayed in times of war and which have mitigated its horrors, I think we should show that some of the finest moments in these heroes' lives had nothing to do with their profession as soldiers. Thus, we have the well-known story of Sir Philip Sydney and the soldier; the wonderful scene where Roland drags the bodies of his dead friends to receive the blessing of the Archbishop after the battle of Roncesvall; and of Napoleon sending the sailor back to England.
There is a moment in the story of Gunnar when he pauses in the midst of the slaughter of his enemies, and says, "I wonder if I am less base than others, because I kill men less willingly than they." And in the "Burning of Njal," we have the words of the boy, Thord, when his grandmother, Bergthora, urges him to go out of the burning house.
"'You promised me when I was little, grandmother, that I should never go from you till I wished it of myself. And I would rather die with you than live after you.'" Here the moral courage is so splendidly shown: none of these heroes feared to die in battle or in open single fight; but to face death by fire for higher considerations is a point of view worth presenting to the child.
In spite of all the dramatic excitement roused by the conduct of our soldiers and sailors, should we not try to offer also in our stories the romance and excitement of saving as well as taking life? I would have quite a collection dealing with the thrilling adventures of the Lifeboat and the Fire Brigade, of which I shall present examples in the final story list.
Finally, we ought to include a certain number of stories dealing with death, especially with children who are of an age to realize that it must come to all, and that this is not a calamity but a perfectly natural and simple thing. At present the child in the street invariably connects death with sordid accidents. I think they should have stories of death coming in heroic form, as when a man or woman dies for a great cause, in which he has opportunity of admiring courage, devotion and unselfishness; or of death coming as a result of treachery, such as we find in the death of Baldur, the death of Siegfried, and others, so that children may learn to abhor such deeds; but also a fair proportion of stories dealing with death that comes naturally, when our work is done, and our strength gone, which has no more tragedy than the falling of a leaf from the tree. In this way, we can give children the first idea that the individual is so much less than the whole.
Little children often take death very naturally. A boy of five met two of his older companions at the school door. They said sadly and solemnly: "We have just seen a dead man!" "Well," said the little philosopher, "that's all right. We've all got to die when our work is done." In one of the Buddha stories which I reproduce at the end of this book, the little Hare (who is, I think, a symbol of nervous individualism) constantly says: "Suppose the Earth were to fall in, what would become of me?" As an antidote to the ordinary attitude towards death, I commend an episode from a German folklore story which is called "Unlucky John," and which is included in the list of stories recommended at the end of this book.
The following sums up in poetic form some of the material necessary for the wants of a child.
THE CHILD 1 The little new soul has come to earth, He has taken his staff for the pilgrim's way.
His sandals are girt on his tender feet, And he carries his scrip for what gifts he may.
2 What will you give to him, Fate Divine? What for his scrip on the winding road? A crown for his head, or a laurel wreath? A sword to wield, or is gold his load? 3 What will you give him for weal or woe? What for the journey through day and night? Give or withhold from him power and fame, But give to him love of the earth's delight.
4 Let him be lover of wind and sun And of falling rain; and the friend of trees; With a singing heart for the pride of noon, And a tender heart for what twilight sees.
5 Let him be lover of you and yours— The Child and Mary; but also Pan And the sylvan gods of the woods and hills, And the god that is hid in his fellowman.
6 Love and a song and the joy of the earth, These be gifts for his scrip to keep Till, the journey ended, he stands at last In the gathering dark, at the gate of sleep.
ETHEL CLIFFORD And so our stories should contain all the essentials for the child's scrip on the road of life, providing the essentials and holding or withholding the nonessentials.
But, above all, let us fill the scrip with gifts that the child need never reject, even when he passes through to "the gate of sleep..
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