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   Chapter 6 No.6

On the Art of Writing / Lectures delivered in the University of Cambridge 1913-1914 By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 3331

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


In our talk, Gentlemen, about Children's Reading we left off upon a list, drawn up by Mr Holmes in his book 'What Is, and What Might Be,' of the things that, apart from physical nourishment and exercise, a child instinctively desires.

He desires

(1) to talk and to listen;

(2) to act (in the dramatic sense of the word);

(3) to draw, paint and model;

(4) to dance and sing;

(5) to know the why of things;

(6) to construct things.

Let us scan through this catalogue briefly, in its order.

No. (1). To talk and to listen-Mr Holmes calls this the communicative instinct. Every child wants to talk with those about him, or at any rate with his chosen ones-his parents, brothers, sisters, nurse, governess, gardener, boot-boy (if he possess these last)-with other children, even if his dear papa is poor: to tell them what he has been doing, seeing, feeling: and to listen to what they have to tell him.

Nos. (2), (3), (4). To act-our author calls this the 'dramatic instinct': to draw, paint and model-this the 'artistic instinct'-to dance and sing-this the 'musical instinct.' But obviously all these are what Aristotle would call 'mimetic' instincts: 'imitative' (in a sense I shall presently explain); even as No. (2)-acting-like No. (1)-talking and listening-comes of craving for sympathy. In fact, as we go on, you will see that these instincts overlap and are not strictly separable, though we separate them just now for convenience.

No. (5). To know the why of things-the 'inquisitive instinct.' This, being the one which gives most trouble to parents, parsons, governesses, conventional schoolmasters-to all grown-up persons who

pretend to know what they don't and are ashamed to tell what they do-is of course the most ruthlessly repressed.

'The time is come,' the Infant said,

'To talk of many things:

Of babies, storks and cabbages

And-

-having studied the Evangelists' Window facing the family pew-

And whether cows have wings.'

The answer, in my experience, is invariably stern, and 'in the negative': in tolerant moments compromising on 'Wait, like a good boy, and see.'

But we singled out this instinct and discussed it in our last lecture.

No. (6). To construct things-the 'constructive instinct.' I quote Mr Holmes here:

After analysis comes synthesis. The child pulls his toys to pieces in order that he may, if possible, reconstruct them. The ends that he sets before himself are those which Comte Set before the human race-savoir pour prévoir, afin de pouvoir: induire pour déduire, afin de construire. The desire to make things, to build things up, to control ways and means, to master the resources of nature, to put his knowledge of her laws and facts to practical use, is strong in his soul. Give him a box of bricks, and he will spend hours in building and rebuilding houses, churches…. Set him on a sandy shore with a spade and a pail, and he will spend hours in constructing fortified castles with deep encircling moats.

Again obviously this constructive instinct overlaps with the imitative ones. Construction, for example, enters into the art of making mud-pies and has also been applied in the past to great poetry. If you don't keep a sharp eye in directing this instinct, it may conceivably end in an "Othello" or in a "Divina Commedia."

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