The Children by Alice Christiana Thompson Meynell


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Page 1

The sympathies, nevertheless, are there. The same child was to be
soothed at night after a weeping dream that a skater had been drowned in
the Kensington Round Pond. It was suggested to her that she should
forget it by thinking about the one unfailing and gay subject--her
wishes. "Do you know," she said, without loss of time, "what I should
like best in all the world? A thundred dolls and a whistle!" Her mother
was so overcome by this tremendous numeral, that she could make no offer
as to the dolls. But the whistle seemed practicable. "It is for me to
whistle for cabs," said the child, with a sudden moderation, "when I go
to parties." Another morning she came down radiant, "Did you hear a
great noise in the miggle of the night? That was me crying. I cried
because I dreamt that Cuckoo [a brother] had swallowed a bead into his

The mere errors of children are unforeseen as nothing is--no, nothing
feminine--in this adult world. "I've got a lotter than you," is the word
of a very young egotist. An older child says, "I'd better go, bettern't
I, mother?" He calls a little space at the back of a London house, "the
backy-garden." A little creature proffers almost daily the reminder at
luncheon--at tart-time: "Father, I hope you will remember that I am the
favourite of the crust." Moreover, if an author set himself to invent
the naif things that children might do in their Christmas plays at home,
he would hardly light upon the device of the little _troupe_ who, having
no footlights, arranged upon the floor a long row of--candle-shades!

"It's _jolly_ dull without you, mother," says a little girl who--gentlest
of the gentle--has a dramatic sense of slang, of which she makes no
secret. But she drops her voice somewhat to disguise her feats of
metathesis, about which she has doubts and which are involuntary: the
"stand-wash," the "sweeping-crosser," the "sewing chamine." Genoese
peasants have the same prank when they try to speak Italian.

Children forget last year so well that if they are Londoners they should
by any means have an impression of the country or the sea annually. A
London little girl watches a fly upon the wing, follows it with her
pointing finger, and names it "bird." Her brother, who wants to play
with a bronze Japanese lobster, ask "Will you please let me have that

At times children give to a word that slight variety which is the most
touching kind of newness. Thus, a child of three asks you to save him.
How moving a word, and how freshly said! He had heard of the "saving" of
other things of interest--especially chocolate creams taken for
safe-keeping--and he asks, "Who is going to save me to-day? Nurse is
going out, will you save me, mother?" The same little variant upon
common use is in another child's courteous reply to a summons to help in
the arrangement of some flowers, "I am quite at your ease."

A child, unconscious little author of things told in this record, was
taken lately to see a fellow author of somewhat different standing from
her own, inasmuch as he is, among other things, a Saturday Reviewer. As
he dwelt in a part of the South-west of the town unknown to her, she
noted with interest the shops of the neighbourhood as she went, for they
might be those of the _fournisseurs_ of her friend. "That is his bread
shop, and that is his book shop. And that, mother," she said finally,
with even heightened sympathy, pausing before a blooming _parterre_ of
confectionery hard by the abode of her man of letters, "that, I suppose,
is where he buys his sugar pigs."

In all her excursions into streets new to her, this same child is intent
upon a certain quest--the quest of a genuine collector. We have all
heard of collecting butterflies, of collecting china-dogs, of collecting
cocked hats, and so forth; but her pursuit gives her a joy that costs her
nothing except a sharp look-out upon the proper names over all
shop-windows. No hoard was ever lighter than hers. "I began three weeks
ago next Monday, mother," she says with precision, "and I have got thirty-
nine." "Thirty-nine what?" "Smiths."


The mere gathering of children's language would be much like collecting
together a handful of flowers that should be all unique, single of their
kind. In one thing, however, do children agree, and that is the
rejection of most of the conventions of the authors who have reported
them. They do not, for example, say "me is;" their natural reply to "are
you?" is "I are." One child, pronouncing sweetly and neatly, will have
nothing but the nominative pronoun. "Lift I up and let I see it
raining," she bids; and told that it does not rain, resumes, "Lift I up
and let I see it not raining."

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Wed 3rd Jun 2020, 3:53