The Children by Alice Christiana Thompson Meynell


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Page 2

An elder child had a rooted dislike to a brown corduroy suit ordered for
her by maternal authority. She wore the garments under protest, and with
some resentment. At the same time it was evident that she took no
pleasure in hearing her praises sweetly sung by a poet, her friend. He
had imagined the making of this child in the counsels of Heaven, and the
decreeing of her soft skin, of her brilliant eyes, and of her hair--"a
brown tress." She had gravely heard the words as "a brown dress," and
she silently bore the poet a grudge for having been the accessory of
Providence in the mandate that she should wear the loathed corduroy. The
unpractised ear played another little girl a like turn. She had a phrase
for snubbing any anecdote that sounded improbable. "That," she said more
or less after Sterne, "is a cotton-wool story."

The learning of words is, needless to say, continued long after the years
of mere learning to speak. The young child now takes a current word into
use, a little at random, and now makes a new one, so as to save the
interruption of a pause for search. I have certainly detected, in
children old enough to show their motives, a conviction that a word of
their own making is as good a communication as another, and as
intelligible. There is even a general implicit conviction among them
that the grown-up people, too, make words by the wayside as occasion
befalls. How otherwise should words be so numerous that every day brings
forward some hitherto unheard? The child would be surprised to know how
irritably poets are refused the faculty and authority which he thinks to
belong to the common world.

There is something very cheerful and courageous in the setting-out of a
child on a journey of speech with so small baggage and with so much
confidence in the chances of the hedge. He goes free, a simple
adventurer. Nor does he make any officious effort to invent anything
strange or particularly expressive or descriptive. The child trusts
genially to his hearer. A very young boy, excited by his first sight of
sunflowers, was eager to describe them, and called them, without allowing
himself to be checked for the trifle of a name, "summersets." This was
simple and unexpected; so was the comment of a sister a very little
older. "Why does he call those flowers summersets?" their mother said;
and the girl, with a darkly brilliant look of humour and penetration,
answered, "because they are so big." There seemed to be no further
question possible after an explanation that was presented thus charged
with meaning.

To a later phase of life, when a little girl's vocabulary was, somewhat
at random, growing larger, belong a few brave phrases hazarded to express
a meaning well realized--a personal matter. Questioned as to the eating
of an uncertain number of buns just before lunch, the child averred, "I
took them just to appetize my hunger." As she betrayed a familiar
knowledge of the tariff of an attractive confectioner, she was asked
whether she and her sisters had been frequenting those little tables on
their way from school. "I sometimes go in there, mother," she confessed;
"but I generally speculate outside."

Children sometimes attempt to cap something perfectly funny with
something so flat that you are obliged to turn the conversation. Dryden
does the same thing, not with jokes, but with his sublimer passages. But
sometimes a child's deliberate banter is quite intelligible to elders.
Take the letter written by a little girl to a mother who had, it seems,
allowed her family to see that she was inclined to be satisfied with
something of her own writing. The child has a full and gay sense of the
sweetest kinds of irony. There was no need for her to write, she and her
mother being both at home, but the words must have seemed to her worthy
of a pen:--"My dear mother, I really wonder how you can be proud of that
article, if it is worthy to be called a article, which I doubt. Such a
unletterary article. I cannot call it letterature. I hope you will not
write any more such unconventionan trash."

This is the saying of a little boy who admired his much younger sister,
and thought her forward for her age: "I wish people knew just how old she
is, mother, then they would know she is onward. They can see she is
pretty, but they can't know she is such a onward baby."

Thus speak the naturally unreluctant; but there are other children who in
time betray a little consciousness and a slight _mefiance_ as to where
the adult sense of humour may be lurking in wait for them, obscure. These
children may not be shy enough to suffer any self-checking in their talk,
but they are now and then to be heard slurring a word of which they do
not feel too sure. A little girl whose sensitiveness was barely enough
to cause her to stop to choose between two words, was wont to bring a cup
of tea to the writing-table of her mother, who had often feigned
indignation at the weakness of what her Irish maid always called "the
infusion." "I'm afraid it's bosh again, mother," said the child; and
then, in a half-whisper, "Is bosh right, or wash, mother?" She was not
told, and decided for herself, with doubts, for bosh. The afternoon cup
left the kitchen an infusion, and reached the library "bosh"
thenceforward.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sun 15th Sep 2019, 16:59