At the Mermaid Inn

The Globe, Toronto: April 29, 1893


       Mr A. Stevenson of Arthur, Ont., has a very able and interesting article on "The speech of children," in a recent number of Science, which ought to be appreciated by all who are interested in the development of the young. Some of the expressions which Mr. Stevenson has noticed are common to many children, though there is a wide diversity owing to the capabilities of the child. Some children have very little of what is called "baby talk," and seem to emerge (almost at once) from muteness into fairly good English. Others, more often found among boys than girls, appear to develop the linguistic powers more slowly. The tendency to shorten words and drop hard consonants is similar to that of primitive or deteriorated races. In fact it seems that the child in its early development passes through all the stages from the lower to the higher, as represented by the animal as well as the human species. it may jar on some loving mothers to be told that their darlings are merely little human animals, but it is largely true, all the same. Of course there are ages of race-culture heredity behind the child, that separate it from the mere animal. But we have all seen how a dog or a cat can be refined up to modern tastes as to its diet and creature comforts. It is when the child begins to think and wonder that the great void between the beast and the human becomes evident. And there is nothing on earth more beautiful and refreshing than the innocent thought and wonder of a thoughtful little child. If a child is at all thoughtful it seems to get farther than the sagest mind ever got. It is a pity to fill one of these pure individualities with all sorts of unnatural fact. For my part I would prefer to prolong their ideal world, where every field is a universe undiscovered, and every bird or squirrel a fairy or genii. After all, the ideal writer is the one who has the children for an audience. The present writer has such an audience, where he reigns more supreme than Howells or Stevenson in both realism and romance. He has no rivals, though he has the severest of critics, for, the natural child, being an acute philosopher, can see through humbug and nonsense quicker than many an adult mind, for all its love of the wonderful and the unknown, and "Now, papa, that's silly, that's not a nice story at all; tell us a nice story," greets the unfortunate author whose imagination has not been up to the usual requirements. If the audience is allowed to choose its own subject the general cry will be "a cat," or "a dog"; the adventures of a cat or a dog being as interesting as those of Sinbad if related rightly. Perhaps a small boy shouts out, "No, a bear! a bear!" Children like to be frightened just a little, not too much; so the bear story is voted unanimously. The present writer, who some time ago ran out of the whole stock of nursery epics in prose and song, has had since to draw largely on imagination. The epic with the traditional hero, be he feathered, quadruped or human it matters not, but interesting must be his history, this Ulysses of the primitive folk. Prose is their favorite, as it allows directness, and the mind of the child is all set on the action or incident. Everything is presented as a picture. In poetry the child first catches the rhythm and sound. Tragedy is a favorite. They realize also pathos, and have a strong sense of a humorous situation, even when they cannot tell why.
       The present writer seldom falls into verse when catering to this pigmy literary world, as he feels it easier to please the adult mind than compete in a sphere where "Mother Goose" is both Homer and Shakespeare. I find, however, that my child public enjoys the epic, which really means the adventures of a hero or a set of heroes, and the tragedy. In the former the Homer must not dare to nod for an instant, and in the latter the action must be simple and direct.

       Huyia Yeddo, we are told by The Chicago Tribune, came to Chicago from Tokio, the city of the gentle and the exquisite, to arrange for the Japanese exhibit at the World's fair. He and his assistants have found the easy and natural manners of this intelligent America too much for them, and they have resolved to go home as soon as possible. "Too much crowd; no can stay," said one of these innocent old-world persons to a reporter. It seems as they walked up State street one evening they were beset by a mob of young hoodlums who pushed them off the sidewalk, punched their faces, assailed them with insulting epithets and finally left one of them insensible. "These youths," said the Japanese narrator, "were perfect strangers and quite unknown to me," and he added that they were supposed to be of the gentlemanly class of Chicago. Anyone who has qualified himself to live in imagination will realize the sorrow and amazement of these poor souls, exposed to the tender mercies of such a crowd. Let them take this experience as a warning, and when they return to Japan let them use their best endeavors to stem the tide of Americanization and Anglicization, which will certainly in the end sweep away all that is gentle, all that is lovely, all that is exquisite in their ancient and inimitable habit of life. The Japanese may perhaps be ignorant of some useful things which we know, but the lessons which they have to teach to us are of vastly greater importance.

       One of the most interesting articles in the April number of The Fortnightly Review is that by Sir Archibald Geikie, F.R.S., upon "Scenery and the imagination." The author deals first with the ancient conceptions of the physical phenomena of the world, and shows how the legends of gods and demi-gods arose from an attempt to explain the disturbances which it was plain to be seen had taken place in the face of the earth. He then contrasts with these the new ideas which modern science has brought to the appreciation of natural beauty. He says: "It will not be hard to show that in dissipating the misconceptions which have grown up around the question of the origin of scenery, science has put in their place a series of views of nature which appeal infinitely more to the imagination than anything which they supplant." This is certainly true and the writer sets about to prove it. It is almost impossible that a man should be too learned if with his knowledge and acquirements he brings the right spirit towards life. If he has a genial soul and wealth of sympathy every new fact or perception which he makes his own is just so much pleasure added to life. It increases his power of comparison and generalization, and enables him to call upon every fact in nature and life for illustrations or correlations which will throw additional light upon the subject in hand. We can form some idea in reading the works of Darwin what a pleasure in life his must have been, as with profound knowledge he compared, observed and sifted. Sir A. Geikie quotes these lines from Lowell, which express very beautifully the attitude of a poet toward the new and profounder science:—

"I grieve not that ripe knowledge takes away
       The charm that nature to my childhood wore,
For, with that insight cometh, day by day,
       A greater bliss than wonder was before;
The real does not clip the poet's wings;
       To win the secret of a weed's plain heart
Reveals some clue to spiritual things,
       And stumbling guess becomes firm-footed art."

       It would be as useless to argue that the knowledge of the convulsions and transformations which have made the world what it is cannot add to our appreciation of the beauty of the world as to maintain that a musician gains no pleasure from a knowledge of the structure of the sonata he plays on, the sculptor from a knowledge of the anatomy of the statue which he admires. There is one part of such a pleasure in natural scenery which every one can enjoy, and that is the perception of its ancientness. I can never look on any portion of the old Laurentian range without an added feeling of wonder. I shall never forget what a sensation of loneliness and awe came over me as from the Isle aux Coudres (itself haunted with the oldest historical associations for Canadians) I watched the sun go down behind the mountains that gather over Bay St. Paul. There was not a cloud in the sky, and as darkness came on the presence of the mountains seemed to grow vaster. They wrapped themselves in darkness and stood aloof, obscure in their ancientness.