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Character Building - Imagination

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

IMAGINATION is that power in the mind by which we are able to realize facts and comprehend ideas: it is creative thinking, or ideality. By its aid we reconstruct the pictures of memory, and, looking forward realize some new fact or thought or forecast. It is perhaps the most active and useful agent of the intellect, and is particularly free and vivid in young children, whose minds are uncrowded with impressions, who are looking at a new world with eager curiosity, and endeavoring to supply their lack of knowledge by structures of fancy. The difference between the bright, quick-witted child and the slow, stupid one usually lies in the greater or less activity of the imaginative faculty.

It is easy to see what a very important part imagination must serve in acquiring knowledge, and how constantly it should be appealed to by parent and teacher in both study and discipline.

No door opens to interest so broadly as through the imagination -the pleasing instrumentality of the picturesque; no entrance to the heart and moral feelings is so direct. The very means of instruction, whether spoken or written, demand its assistance, for the words we use are only symbols, representing mind-pictures, as anciently they did painted ones; and no one can fully understand ideas unless he can realize the thing for which each symbol-word stands.

For these and other reasons, the young should cultivate their power of imagination, but control and train it by reason based upon facts. It was such control that made it possible for the great generalizations of science, such as those of Newton, Agassiz, and Darwin, to be formulated. Certain studies especially call for it-geography and geometry, for examples. A morning walk across the country, with its display in miniature of mountains and valleys, its lakes and rivers, showing along their courses islands, capes, peninsulas, and so forth, will give a child a better idea of the terms in geography, and of the action of the elements in producing the landscape, than a long series of book-lessons. Reading becomes enjoyable and profitable in proportion as it stimulates and feeds the imagination with new facts and novel ideas.

Here is the great value of museums to children. When, for instance, a boy or girl sees an actual war-chariot, such as that ancient one exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, how new and vivid are the pictures he is able to make in his mind's eye of the scenes of Roman or Greek history-of Achilles dragging Hector around the walls of Troy, or of the triumph of a general parading along the Imperial Way in Rome! How real are the deeds of the vikings, when one sees that old Norse ship in the Field Museum in Chicago!

It is by imagination, based upon observation, that we extend our knowledge; and our little ones begin this process of self-education long before their games become a matter of skill and strength. The amusements of little children are, in fact, almost wholly imaginative. Their fancy ranges free from the trammels of self-consciousness or experience, and lets them surround themselves with delightful images, changing with the rapidity and inconstancy of a dream. Few materials are required. The same rag doll is now a boy, then a girl, or a young baby, or the mother of another poor little effigy, and each time the surroundings change in the child's fancy to fit the new personality, with the ease of a turned kaleidoscope.

Children do not hesitate to transform playmates, or even themselves, into unrealities (real enough, however, to them) ; and little girls sometimes invent a purely imaginary playmate, give her a name, and for weeks together talk and play with her, reporting daily what she does, says, and thinks.

Now out of these infantile fancies, enlarged and regulated by culture, come the songs of the poets, the compositions in music and the other arts, and the bold flights of science, invention, and commerce; so that it is a faculty well worth cultivation.

Imagination is, in truth, the mother of ambition and its success. By it the mind pictures the future and forces the results of energy and perseverance applied to a certain end. The goal and its rewards are vividly pictured, and also the difficulties which a brave man considers only long enough to defeat. Without imagination no creative work could ever be accomplished, or good cause advanced. Plainly, it is worth while to nourish such a well-spring of energy and bring it under control, for its best work is done in the harness of judgment and reason.

Of course Volume I of the Library is a treasure-house of happy imagination, but we want to refer to a few special examples, such as "Cinderella," "Why the Bear Has a Stumpy Tail," "The Land of Counterpane," "The Unseen Playmate," "Puss in Boots," "The Land of Story-Books," and "The Hardy Tin Soldier." Every child should know these and their fellows. In Volume II we see wonderful imagination at work in stories like "Proserpina," "Baldur," "The Star-Lovers," "Perseus," "Siegfried," and other myths. Little folks will revel in "Gulliver's Travels," and "The Tempest," in Volume III, as works of great imaginative power. The same can be said for "Undine," "Rip Van Winkle," and "The Snow-Image" in Volume IV. And there is all of Volume XI, " Golden Hours with the Poets," and Volume XII, "Music and the Fine Arts," to enthrall the attention and quicken the ready imagination of children old and young.

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