Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Transforming Wand

       The play of young fancy meets us in the very domain of the senses: it is active, often bewilderingly active, when the small person seems busily engaged in looking at things and moving among them.
       We see this fanciful "reading" of things when a child calls the star an "eye," I suppose because of its brightness and its twinkling movement, or says that a dripping plant is "crying ".
        This transforming touch of the magic wand of young fancy has something of crude nature-poetry in it, This is abundantly illustrated in what may be called childish metaphors, by which they try to describe what is new and strange. For example, a little boy of nineteen months looking at his mother's spectacles said: "Little windows". Another boy two years and five months, on looking at the hammers of a piano which his mother was playing, called out: "There is owlegie" (diminutive of owl). His eye had instantly caught the similarity between the round felt disc of the hammer divided by a piece of wood, and the owl's face divided by its beak. In like manner another little boy called a small oscillating compass-needle a "bird" probably on the ground of its fluttering movement. Pretty conceits are often resorted to in this effort to get at home with strange objects, as when stars were described by one child as "cinders from God's stove," and butterflies as " pansies flying".
       This play of imagination upon the world of sense has a strong vitalizing or personifying element. A child is apt to attribute life and sensation to what we serious people regard as lifeless. Thus he gives not only a body but a soul to the wind when it whistles or howls at night The most unpromising things come in for this warning, life-giving touch of a child's fancy. Thus one little fellow, aged one year eight months, conceived a special fondness for the letter W, addressing it thus: "Dear old boy W ". Miss Ingelow tells us that when a child she used to feel sorry for the pebbles in the causeway for having to lie always in one place, and would carry them to another place for a change.
       It is hard for us elders to get back to this childish way of looking at things. One may however hazard the guess that there is in it a measure of dreamy illusion. This means that only a part of what is present is seen, the part which makes the new object like the old and familiar one. And so it gets transformed into a semblance of the old one; just as a rock gets transformed for our older eyes into the semblance of a human face.
       There is another way in which children's fancy may transmute the objects of sense. Mr. Ruskin tells us that when young he got to connect or "associate" the name "crocodile " so closely with the creature that when he saw it printed it would take on something of the look of the beast's lanky body.
       How far, one wonders, does this process of transformation of external objects go in the case of imaginative children? It is not improbable that before the qualities of things and their connections one with another are sufficiently known for them to be interesting in themselves they often acquire interest through the interpretative touch of childish fancy.
       There is one new field of investigation which is illustrating in a curious way the wizard influence wielded by childish imagination over the things of sense. It is well known that a certain number of people habitually "color" the sounds they hear, imagining, for example, the sound of a particular vowel or musical tone to have its characteristic tint, which they are able to describe accurately. This "colored hearing," as it is called, is always traced back to the dimly recalled age of childhood. Children are now beginning to be tested as to their possession of this trick of fancy. It was found in the case of a number of school-children that nearly 40 percent, described the tones of certain instruments as colored. There was, however, no agreement among these children as to the particular tint belonging to a given sound: thus whereas one child mentally "saw" the tone of a fife as pale or bright, another saw it as dark.
       I have confined myself here to what I have called the play of imagination, the magical transmuting of things through the sheer liveliness of childish fancy. The degree of transmutation will of course vary with the intensity of the imagination. Sometimes when a child dwells on the fancy it may grow into a momentary illusion. A little girl of four, sitting by the side of her mother in the garden, picked up a small pink worm and said: "Ah I you do look nice; how a thrush would like you!" and thereupon, realizing the part of the fortunate thrush, proceeded, to her mother's horror, to eat up the worm quite composedly. The momentary illusion of something nice to eat, here produced by a lively realization of a part, may arise in other cases from strong feeling, more especially fear, which, as we shall see, has so large a dominion over the young mind.
       This witchcraft of the young fancy in veiling and transforming the actual surroundings is a good deal restrained by the practical needs of everyday life and by discussion with older and graver folk. There are, however, regions of child-life where it knows no check. One of these is child's play, to be spoken of presently: another is the filling up of the blank spaces in the visible world with the products of fancy. We will call these regions on which the young wing of fancy is wont to alight and rest, fancy's resting places.

Building  fancy's resting place by the kids next door.

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