Perhaps it is well for all of us that we should live mostly on the surfaces of things and should play with life, to avoid taking it too hard. In a nursery the youngest child is a little more than a doll, and the doll is a little less than a child. What spell does fancy weave on earth like that which the one of these small beings performs for the other? This battered and tattered doll, this shapeless, featureless, possibly legless creature, whose mission it is to be dragged by one arm, or stood upon its head in the bathing-tub, until it finally reverts to the rag-bag whence it came,--what an affluence of breathing life is thrown around it by one touch of dawning imagination! Its little mistress will find all joy unavailing without its sympathetic presence, will confide every emotion to its pen-and-ink ears, and will weep passionate tears if its extremely soiled person is pricked when its clothes are mended. What psychologist, what student of the human heart, has ever applied his subtile analysis to the emotions of a child toward her doll?
I read lately the charming autobiography of a little girl of eight years, written literally from her own dictation. Since "Pet Marjorie" I have seen no such actual self-revelation on the part of a child. In the course of her narration she describes, with great precision and correctness, the travels of the family through Europe in the preceding year, assigning usually the place of importance to her doll, who appears simply as "My Baby." Nothing can be more grave, more accurate, more serious than the whole history, but nothing in it seems quite so real and alive as the doll. "When we got to Nice, I was sick. The next morning the doctor came, and he said I had something that was very much like scarlet fever. Then I had Annie take care of baby, and keep her away, for I was afraid she would get the fever. She used to cry to come to me, but I knew it wouldn't be good for her."
What firm judgment is here, what tenderness without weakness, what discreet motherhood! When Christmas came, it appears that baby hung up her stocking with the rest. Her devoted parent had bought for her a slate with a real pencil. Others provided thimble and scissors and bodkin and a spool of thread, and a travelling-shawl with a strap, and a cap with tarletan ruffles. "I found baby with the cap on, early in the morning, and she was so pleased she almost jumped out of my arms." Thus in the midst of visits to the Coliseum and St. Peter's, the drama of early affection goes always on. "I used to take her to hear the band, in the carriage, and she went everywhere I did." But the love of all dolls, as of other pets, must end with a tragedy, and here it comes. "The next place we went to was Lucerne. There was a lovely lake there, but I had a very sad time. One day I thought I'd take baby down to breakfast, and, as I was going up stairs, my foot slipped and baby broke her head. And O, I felt so bad! and I cried out, and I ran up stairs to Annie, and mamma came, and O, we were all so sorry! And mamma said she thought I could get another head, but I said, 'It won't be the same baby.' And mamma said, maybe we could make it seem so."
At this crisis the elder brother and sister departed for Mount Righi. "They were going to stay all night, and mamma and I stayed at home to take care of each other. I felt very bad about baby and about their going, too. After they went, mamma and I thought we would go to the little town and see what we could find." After many difficulties, a waxen head was discovered. "Mamma bought it, and we took it home and put it on baby; but I said it wasn't like my real baby, only it was better than having no child at all!"
This crushing bereavement, this reluctant acceptance of a child by adoption, to fill the vacant heart,--how real and formidable is all this rehearsal of the tragedies of maturer years! I knew an instance in which the last impulse of ebbing life was such a gush of imaginary motherhood.
A dear friend of mine, whose sweet charities prolong into a third generation the unbounded benevolence of old Isaac Hopper, used to go at Christmas-time with dolls and other gifts to the poor children on Randall's Island. Passing the bed of a little girl whom the physician pronounced to be unconscious and dying, the kind visitor insisted on putting a doll into her arms. Instantly the eyes of the little invalid opened, and she pressed the gift eagerly to her heart, murmuring over it and caressing it. The matron afterwards wrote that the child died within two hours, wearing a happy face, and still clinging to her new-found treasure.
And beginning with this transfer of all human associations to a doll, the child's life interfuses itself readily among all the affairs of the elders. In its presence, formality vanishes, the most oppressive ceremonial is a little relieved when children enter. Their influence is pervasive and irresistible, like that of water, which adapts itself to any landscape,--always takes its place, welcome or unwelcome,--keeps its own level and seems always to have its natural and proper margin.
Out of doors how children mingle with nature, and seem to begin just where birds and butterflies leave off! Leigh Hunt, with his delicate perceptions, paints this well: "The voices of children seem as natural to the early morning as the voice of the birds. The suddenness, the lightness, the loudness, the sweet confusion, the sparkling gayety, seem alike in both. The sudden little jangle is now here and now there; and now a single voice calls to another, and the boy is off like the bird." So Heine, with deeper thoughtfulness, noticed the "intimacy with the trees" of the little wood-gatherer in the Hartz Mountains; soon the child whistled like a linnet, and the other birds all answered him; then he disappeared in the thicket with his bare feet and his bundle of brushwood.
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