He who commits a verse of Dante to memory and he who meditates upon a verse of the gospel, performs a totally different task. The canto will "adorn" the mind on which it is impressed for a certain time, without leaving any lasting trace upon it. The verse which has been the subject of meditation will have a transforming and edifying effect. He who meditates clears his mind as far as possible of every other image, and tries to concentrate upon the subject of meditation in such a manner that all the internal activities will be polarised thereby: or, as the monks say, "all the powers of the mind."
The expected result of the meditation is "an internal fruit of strength"; the soul is strengthened and unified, it becomes active; it can then act upon the seed around which it has concentrated and cause it to become fruitful.
Now the method chosen by our children in following their natural development is "meditation," for in no other way would they be led to linger so long over each individual task, and so to derive a gradual internal maturation therefrom. The aim of the children who persevere in their work with an object, is certainly not to "learn"; they are drawn to it by the needs of their inner life, which must be organized and developed by its means. In this manner they imitate and carry on their "growth." This is the habit by which they gradually coordinate and enrich their intelligence. As they meditate, they enter upon that path of progress which will continue without end.
It is after an exercise of meditation on the objects that our children become capable of enjoying "the silence exercise"; and then, having been rendered delicately susceptible to impressions, they try to make no noise when they move, to refrain from awkward actions, because they are enjoying the fruit of the "concentration" of the spirit.
It is thus that their personality is unified and strengthened. The exercise which serves as the means to this end is designed gradually to perfect the accuracy with which they perceive the external world, observing, reasoning, and correcting the errors of the senses in a sustained and spontaneous activity. It is they who act, they who choose the objects, they who persevere in their work, they who seek to win from their environment the possibility of concentrating their minds upon it. Each one of them moves in obedience to the motor power within him. They are not disturbed by a teacher, by a being obviously superior to themselves, who intimidates the shrinking poverty of those who are beginning life by her lofty intellectual riches, who darkens rather than illuminates, who wearies rather than refreshes; but they live in peace with her who, almost a priestess, is yet a servant. As in some ideal convent, humility, simplicity, and work make up the environment where he who meditates will some day feel within himself the clearness of vision, the intuition, almost the sensibility, which make one ready to receive the truth.
To a different end, but by the same road, amidst the silence, the simplicity, and the humility of the monastery, the spirit prepares itself to receive the faith at the outset of life.
Many years ago, when I first received the impression that our children revealed general principles of life which in practise we are only privileged to encounter among the intellectual and spiritual elite of society, and that for this reason they were at the same time the revealers of a form of unconscious oppression which weighed down humanity, deforming the inner life, I spoke at length upon the matter to an intellectual lady, who was much interested in my "theories," and very anxious that I should make them the subject of an elaborate philosophical treatise; but she could not bring herself to accept the idea that it was a question of an experimental process. When I spoke of the children, she showed some impatience: "Oh, yes, I quite understand all about these children; in intelligence they are so many geniuses, and in goodness so many angels." But when, after some persuasion, I succeeded in making her come and see for herself, she took my hands and looked earnestly in my face: "Have you never thought," she asked, "that you may die at any moment?... Write at once, anyhow, in all haste, as you would write a will, a simple description of the facts, that you may not carry away this secret with you to the grave."
Nevertheless, I was in excellent health.
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If we examine the mental labors of men of genius to whom we owe discoveries which have opened new paths to thought, and have given us new sources of well-being and social progress, we shall have to admit that in themselves they cannot be described as extraordinary processes, inaccessible to mediocrity. "Genius coincides with the possession in a very high degree of the power of association by similarity. This is the essential quality of genius," says Bain. Even at the "central point" of discovery, it is only by accurate observation and a very simple process of reasoning, of which most persons would consider themselves capable, that the discovery is made. At most it is due to a marshalling of "evidences" which, however, passed unnoticed by all but the discoverer.
We may say that genius has the faculty of isolating a fact in the consciousness, and of so distinguishing it from all others that it is as if a single ray of light should fall upon a diamond in a dark room. This single idea, then, causes a complete revolution in the consciousness, and is capable of constructing something infinitely great and precious for all humanity.
But it is the intense significance of ordinary things, and not the abnormal, which is the main factor; it is the isolation in a homogeneous field, not the intrinsic value of the thing, which determines the marvelous phenomenon. Perhaps within countless thousands of chaotic perceptions the gem had existed, stored up amidst a multitude of useless and cumbrous objects, and had never succeeded in arresting attention; meanwhile inertia continued to allow new objects to penetrate continually within the distended and impotent walls. After a discovery, many will perceive that they themselves held the same truth within them; but in this case it is not the truth itself that has value, but the man who is capable of appreciating it and bringing it into relation with action.
But very often it is not the case that the newly discovered truth already exists in the chaos of obscure consciousness; and then the new light, simple though it be, can find no way by which to penetrate into the mind.
It is rejected as something strange and fallacious; and a certain lapse of time is necessary, a certain coordination of the intelligence, to enable the "novelty" to enter. Yet some day it will be considered clear as crystal. It was not the "nature" of man which shrank from it, but his "errors." These errors not only make man incapable of production, but are in themselves hostile to receptivity. Thus it often happens that the pioneers of salvation are persecuted by a sort of unconscious ingratitude, which is the fruit of spiritual darkness.
What was the argument of Christopher Columbus? He thought: "If the earth is really round, he who starts from a certain point and advances steadily, will return to the point of departure." This was the sum of the intellectual work which enriched mankind with a new world.
That a great continent should have lain in the track of Columbus, and that he should have encountered this and not death, was the destiny due to the chance of environment. The environment sometimes rewards "small reasonings" of this kind in a surprising manner.
It was certainly not a great labor of human intelligence which brought about these great results; it was the triumph of this idea over the whole consciousness, and the heroic courage of the man, which gave it its value. The great difficulty, for the man who had conceived the idea, was to persevere until he could persuade others to help him in his enterprise, to give him ships and followers. It was the faith and not the idea of Columbus which triumphed.
That simple and logical reasoning kindled within him something infinitely more precious than intelligence, and enabled a single man of humble origin, and almost uneducated, to present a world to a queen.
We are told that Alessandro Volta's wife was ill with fever, and that he, in accordance with the practise of his day, was preparing the usual febrifuge, a broth of skinned frogs; it was a rainy day, and when he hung up the dead frogs on the iron bar of the window, he noticed that their legs contracted. "If dead muscles contract, it must mean that some external force has penetrated them." This was the simple argument of the "genius," the "great discoverer." And seeking this force, Volta, by means of his piles, was able to wrest from the earth electricity, which is, literally as well as figuratively, the "gleam" of an immense progress. Laying due weight upon a little fact, such as that of a dead being having moved, considering it soberly without any fanciful additions, and fixing the mind upon the resulting problem: Why does it move?—such was the lengthy process by which one of the greatest conquests of civilization was achieved.
Akin to this was Galileo's discovery, when, standing in Pisa Cathedral, he watched the oscillations of a hanging lamp. He observed that the oscillations were all completed in the same space of time, and the isochronism of the pendulum was the beginning of the measurement of time for all men, and of the measurement of worlds for the astronomer.
How simple, too, is the story of Newton, who felt an apple fall upon him as he lay under a tree, and thought to himself: "Why did that apple fall?" Such was the simple origin of the theory of the gravity of bodies, and that of universal gravitation.
When we study of the life of Papin, we marvel at the culture which placed him on a level with the most learned men of his times: as physician, physiologist, and mathematician, he was distinguished and honored by the universities of England and Germany. Nevertheless, what gave him his value to humanity, and hence his greatness, was the fact that his attention had been arrested by the sight of the lid of a saucepan of boiling water raised by the steam. "Steam is a force which could lift a piston as it lifts the cover of a saucepan, and become the motor power of a machine." Papin's famous saucepan is a kind of magic wand in the history of mankind, which thenceforth began to work and travel without fatigue. How wonderful are such stories of great discoveries arising from humble beginnings, and working miracles throughout the world!
These, in their origins, resemble those living creatures, born of two imperceptible microscopic cells, the fusion of which inevitably tends to the creation of complex lives. To perceive exactly and to connect the things perceived logically is the work of the highest intelligence. But this work is characterized by a peculiar power of attention, which causes the mind to dwell upon a subject in a species of meditation, the characteristic mark of genius; the outcome is an internal life rich in activities, just as the germinative cells are the fruit of internal existences. It would seem that such mentalities are distinguished from those of the ordinary type, not by their form, but by their "force." It is the vigorous life from which those two small intellectual sparks arise, which makes them so marvelous. If they had not sprung from strong, independent personalities, capable of persistent effort and heroic self-sacrifice, those little intellectual works would have remained as things inert and negligible. Hence all that strengthens the spiritual man may lead him in the footsteps of the genius.
Thus, as regards the intelligence in itself, the work it has to accomplish is a small matter, but it is clearly defined, and stripped of superfluous complications. Simplicity is the guide to discovery; simplicity which, like truth, should be naked. Very little is necessary; but this little must constitute a powerful unity; the rest is vanity.
And the greater this vanity, that is to say, the futile encumbrance of the mind, the more will the light of the spirit be darkened and its forces dissipated, making it difficult or impossible not only to reason and act, but even to perceive reality, to see.
* * * * *
It would be interesting to make a rapid survey of those collective individual errors by which the progress of a new discovery of a simple kind, offering relief to suffering humanity, has been impeded; errors which have even caused persistent denial of the existence of obvious facts, merely because these were not generally known.
Let us consider for a moment the discovery of the cause of malaria. This discovery, due to the Englishman, Ross, in connection with birds, and to the Italian, Grassi, in connection with man, consists in having found out that the plasmodium of malaria, which produces the malady, is inoculated in man and in the various animals subject to it, by a special kind of mosquito. Let us inquire what was the state of science prior to this discovery. In 1880 Laveran had described an animal micro-organism, which preyed upon the red corpuscles of the blood, producing an attack of fever with the cycle of its existence. Subsequent studies confirmed and elucidated this fact, and the plasmodium malariae became a matter of common knowledge. It was known that animal micro-organisms, unlike vegetable micro-organisms, after a cycle of life in which reproduction takes place by scission—that is, by subdivision of a single body into several other bodies equal to the first, give place to sexual forms, masculine and feminine, which are separate, and incapable of scission, but are designed for fusion into one another, after which the organism recommences its cycle of scissions until it again reaches the sexual forms.
Laveran had found that in the blood of sufferers who recover spontaneously from malarial fever there are a great number of corpuscles which have no longer the rounded forms of the plasmodia, but are crescent-shaped and rayed. He took these to be transformations of the plasmodia, "modified in form" and "incapable of producing disease," and pronounced them to be "degenerate" organisms, almost as if they had been deformed and exhausted by the "excess of work" they had previously performed. These organisms were described as "Laveran's degenerative forms." After the discovery of the transmission of malaria in 1900, Laveran's "degenerative forms" were recognized as the sexual individuals of the reproductive cycle: individuals which were incapable of conjugation in the blood of man, and could only produce new organisms in the body of the mosquito. We may well wonder: Why did not Laveran simply recognize those sexual forms, and why did he not seek for the period of conjugation in the plasmodia, which were animal micro-organisms? If he had borne in mind the complete cycle of the protozoa, he would have recognized them. But evidently Morel's theories of the degeneration of man had made a much livelier impression on his imagination; and his leap from these remote theories to his interpretation of the plasmodia seemed an achievement of "genius." It may be said that this "feat of genius," this visionary generalization, prevented Laveran from seeing the truth. A form of arrogance and levity is apparent in such errors.
Moreover, we are astonished by something still more serious: how came it that hundreds and thousands of students throughout the world accepted Laveran's error with their eyes shut, that not one among so many took into consideration on his own account the cycle of the protozoa, and that not one was sufficiently independent to set about studying the phenomenon for himself? What is this mental form of inertia? and why does it produce itself in man? All these disciples, heedless of the problem presented to their minds by the sexual form of the plasmodium, left it alone, although it had not yet been solved, and certainly had no intuition of the fame, the progress in science, and the benefit to humanity which would have been the outcome, had the problem constituted an obstacle which had arrested their attention, saying: "Solve me."
They passed on indifferently, commending Laveran's "effort of genius," repeating with him: They are degenerate forms. A futile effort, which only increased a crowd of persons who had resigned their own individuality all unconsciously.
Another biological acquisition was the assurance that the circulatory system of the blood is a closed system of vessels, and that the enclosing epithelium is not permeable by non-incisive solid bodies such as vegetable microbes, and still less by rounded protozoa, which are much larger than microbes and soft in substance. This well-known and clearly demonstrated fact ought to have suggested a problem to the minds of students: How do the protozoa of malaria enter the circulatory current of the blood? But ever since the days of Hippocrates, Pliny, Celsius and Galen it had been held that this fever was caused by the "poisonous atmosphere" of marsh lands, the bad air of the morning and the evening, so much so that even a few years before the discovery of the real cause of malaria, eucalyptus trees were planted in the belief that they would filter and disinfect the air. How was it that no one asked himself how it was possible that the plasmodia could enter the current of the blood from the air? What was the species of torpor which took possession of the intelligence of persons who had specialized in intellectual work? Here was a colossal sum of intelligence, without any individuality.
Until Ross discovered that birds are inoculated with malaria by a particular kind of mosquito.
And then, behold! we have at last the fundamental argument from which the knowledge of the truth sprang forth: "If birds are inoculated with malaria by mosquitoes, then the same thing must happen to man."
A simple argument, which sped like an arrow to the final discovery. Nothing seemed more incredible than the fact that in the malarial regions good air and fertile soil were to be found, that it was possible to breathe that air morning and evening and remain in perfect health, so long as one was not bitten by mosquitoes, and that the innumerable peasants who were wasted by malarial anemia would be saved and restored if they protected themselves by mosquito-netting. But after the first stupefaction, when men were convinced of the facts, there was an outcry from all the intelligent: How was it possible that we did not find it out before? Was not the cycle of the protozoa a well-known fact? Did not every one declare that the system of circulation was closed and impervious to micro-organisms? Was it not natural to think that only a blood-sucking insect could innoculate it?
How many students felt that glory had passed close to them, and were amazed and saddened by the knowledge, like the disciples of Emmaeus, who said to each other when the Master disappeared before they recognized Him: "Did not our hearts burn within us when He spoke and expounded the Scriptures to us?"
Many must have thought: We worked so laboriously only to encumber our minds, and yet but one thing was needful: we should have been humble and simple, but independent. Instead, we filled our souls with darkness, and the ray that would have made us see, could not penetrate to us.
Let us take some grosser errors. As far back as the days of the Greek civilization it was known empirically that "stones can fall from the sky." Falls of aerolites are recorded in the most ancient Chinese chronicles. In the Middle Ages and in modern times intimations of the fall of aerolites have increased in frequency. Remarkable facts are indeed recorded in history in connection with similar phenomena: the meteorite which fell in 1492 served the Emperor Maximilian I of Germany as a pretext to excite Christendom to a war against the Turks. Nevertheless, the phenomenon was not admitted by men of science until the eighteenth century. One of the largest meteorites on record was that which fell near Agram in 1751; it weighed about forty kilogrammes, and was deposited and catalogued in the court mineralogical museum at Vienna. This is what Stuetz, a German savant, had to say on the subject in 1790: "Those ignorant of natural history may believe that iron has fallen from the sky, and even educated men in Germany may have believed this in 1751, taking into account the universal ignorance then prevalent as to natural history and physics; but in our times it would be unpardonable to admit even the plausibility of such fables."
In the same year 1790, an aerolite weighing ten kilogrammes fell in Gascony. It was observed by a large number of persons, and an official report, signed by three hundred witnesses, was sent to the Academy of Paris. The reply was that "it had been very amusing to receive a legal document dealing with such an absurdity." 
[Footnote 7: But a great physicist, unable to share amusement, wrote: "It is sad to see a municipality giving credence to the babble of the vulgar in a protocol, and to see authentic testimonies to an occurrence which is obviously impossible."]
When, a few years later, Chladni of Wittenberg, the founder of scientific acoustics, began to admit the phenomenon and to believe in the existence of aerolites, he was stigmatized as "a man who was ignorant of every law and who did not consider the damage he was doing in the moral world"; and one savant declared that "if he had himself seen iron fall from the sky at his own feet, he would not have believed it."
This was incredulity greater than that of St Thomas, who said: "Unless I can touch I will not believe." Here were pieces of iron weighing ten and forty kilogrammes, which could be touched, but the savant said: "Even if I touch them, I will not believe."
It is, therefore, not enough to see in order to believe; we must believe in order to see. It is faith which leads to sight, not sight which produces faith. When the blind man in the gospel uttered the anxious cry: "Make me to see," he asked for "faith," because he knew that it is possible to have eyes and not to see.
The fact of being insensible to evidence is little considered in psychology, much less is it taken into account in pedagogic laws. And yet many similar facts, though of an inferior psychological order, are notorious, as, for instance, that stimuli will appeal in vain to the senses, if the internal cooperation of attention be lacking. A thousand experiences of this kind enter in to make up the sum of common knowledge. It is not enough that an object should be before our eyes to make us see it; it is necessary that we should fix our attention upon it; an internal process, preparing us to receive the impression of the stimulus, is essential.
In a loftier and purely spiritual sphere something of the same kind takes place: an idea cannot enter triumphantly into the consciousness, if it is not accompanied by a preparation of faith. Lacking this, it may knock violently and brutally, with clamorous insistence, without being able to penetrate. It is necessary that the field of consciousness should be not only free, but "expectant." He who is bewildered by a chaos of ideas cannot accept a truth which arrives unexpectedly in the unprepared field.
This fact is not only analogous to other psychical facts of less importance, such as that of sensory perception in relation to attention; it is also analogous to the spiritual facts which are so well known in the field of religion. In vain will a fact, however remarkable, be explained or even demonstrated where there is no faith; it is not evidence but faith which opens the mind to truth. The very senses are useless as a medium if the internal activity does not open the doors to receive it. When the most striking miracles of Christ are related in the gospel, the narrative always concludes with: "And many of those who saw, believed." The parable of the invitation to the feast, to which those who were absorbed in their own affairs could not respond, seems to indicate a fact similar to this intellectual fact, that the "preoccupations" of complicated pre-existing ideas prevent the new and obvious truth that presents itself, from entering in. It is for this reason that we need the Precursor to make ready for the Messiah. And for this reason the Messiah, and also new ideas, are readily received by the "simple," by those who are not "laden with heavy preoccupations," but have preserved the natural characteristics of the spirit: to be pure and always "expectant."
When in 1628 Harvey discovered the circulation of the blood, physiology was almost unknown, and medicine was in the full tide of empiricism. It is well known that the Faculty of Medicine of Paris refused to believe in circulation, in spite of experiments, and that it persecuted and calumniated Harvey. "That which pleases me in my son," said Diafoirus, "and in which he follows my example, is, that he remains faithful to the opinions of our ancient teachers, and that he has always refused either to understand or to listen to the arguments and experiments of the pretended discoveries of our century, especially as regards the circulation of the blood."
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The history of the discovery of germinative foliations in the embryonic development of vertebrates forms one of the most impressive of human documents. In 1700 the theory of pre-formation was vigorously upheld amongst the many ideas relating to generation: that is to say, it was believed that the germs contained little organisms completely formed which would eventually unfold and increase the parts of infinitesimal dimensions which were packed one within the other. This theory applied to every living creature, animal, vegetable, and human. It had led, by its own logical development, to the more far-reaching theory of "mutual inclusion"—that is, the doctrine that, as all living organisms are pre-formed, they must of necessity all have existed from the Creation, the one included, or wrapped up, in the other. All humanity must have lain in the ovaries of Eve. When in 1690 Leuwenhoek discovered spermatozoa by the aid of the microscope, the idea was evolved that each male cell contained a complete microscopic man, the homunculus; and then it was announced that not Eve, but Adam had contained all humanity within himself. Hence the two contradictory theories which in the eighteenth century kept their adherents sharply divided, the theories of the ovulists and those of the animalculists, and the dispute seemed to offer little hope of a possible decision. The names of famous scientists and philosophers were associated with these dissensions, those, for instance, of Spallanzani and of Liebnitz, who applied the principles of generation even to the soul. "Thus I should think," said Liebnitz, "that the souls which will one day become human souls, were present in the germ; that they have always existed as organized bodies in their progenitors from Adam onwards—that is, from the beginning of things." 
Haller, the ovulist, who had great authority as a physiologist, in a famous work, Elementa physiologiae, upheld the principle vigorously: "Nulla est epigenesis. Nulla in corpore animale pars ante aliam facta est et omnes simul creatae existunt" (nothing is created anew, no part of the human body is made before any other part, all are created at the same time). Making a calculation based on Biblical cosmogony of the number of human beings who were packed in the ovaries of Eve, he reckons them at two hundred thousand millions. Such was the state of thought when in 1759 K. F. Wolff published some of his studies in the work Theoria generationis, where he maintained, on the strength of experiments and microscopic observations made on the embryos of fowls, that new organisms are not pre-formed, but that they create themselves entirely, starting from nothing—that is, from a microscopic cell, simple as are all primitive cells. He described the simple process by which the real evolution of individuals is brought about: from a single cell, by division, two, and then four and then eight, are formed, and so on. And the cells thus germinated divide themselves into two or three tiny folds of "primitive folioles" from which all the organs are evolved, beginning with the alimentary canal. "This assertion," says Wolff "is not a fanciful theory; it is a description of facts collected by means of the most trustworthy observations."
[Footnote 8: From Haeckel's Anthropogenie.]
All the scientists of his day knew and made use of the microscope; all might have taken an egg, that is, the embryo of a fowl, as a subject for observation; they were not indifferent to the problem of individual genesis, but in their case it had merely excited the most complex efforts of the imagination, and had divided them into factions, as adversaries in a battle of thought. Could any one of them attempt to experiment and observe save at the risk of destroying himself together with his adversaries, as Samson destroyed himself with the Philistines? The possibility that there might be some truth in what had been seen and described, and that it might recur, should indeed have induced some one to venture upon a road which, if it proved to be the right one, would have been a glorious path to a future of discoveries and distinctions. But no. A dense fog obscured all minds, and the dazzling truth could not pierce it; thus all progress in embryology was precluded.
Fifty years had passed, and Wolff, poor and persecuted, had died at Petrograd, an exile from his native land, when Pander and Ernest von Baer grappled anew with the theory of "blastodermic foliation." Then the scientific world perceived the truth and accepted the evidence, inaugurating those studies in embryology which shed so much luster on the nineteenth century.
Why was it necessary that fifty years should elapse before men could see what was evident? What had happened in these fifty years? The work of Wolff, dead and forgotten, can have had no influence whatever. The fact was merely that men saw subsequently what it had been previously impossible for them to see. A kind of internal maturity must have come about in them, by virtue of which their spiritual eyes were opened, and they saw. When those eyes were closed, evidence was useless. Fifty years earlier, a direct attack would have spent itself on insuperable obstacles; but with the lapse of time the subject presented itself, and was simply and universally accepted, not only without a struggle, but without any excitement.
This fact might be arguable in relation to the internal maturation of the masses; but it is beyond question in its relation to the individual. When an obvious truth cannot be seen, we must retire, and leave the individual to mature. A struggle "to bring about perception of evidence" would be bitter and exhausting. But when maturity comes, we shall find the seer filled with enthusiasm, and bearing fruit like the vines of the Land of Promise.
When in 1859 Charles Darwin expounded the theory of evolution in his book, "The Origin of Species," he recognized the great influence it had had upon the thought of his day, for he wrote in his note-book: "My theory will lead to a philosophy." His conception of the struggle for life and of the natural selection of characteristics, so widely adopted by the thinkers of his day, popularized the principles of Lamarck as to the casual formation of new characteristics in a species by adaptation to environment; Darwin's conception carried these principles along with it—and almost fused them in its own content. These principles, excluding both creation and its finalities, implicitly denied the immortality of the soul. The effect of such a revolution may be imagined; for many centuries the soul had been the object of life, and when the fundamental faith of existence was shaken, the life of the conscience itself was convulsed. It may be supposed that there was an anxious search for contradictions in the destructive theory, if on no other grounds than that of the instinct to preserve ancient beliefs, which lies deeply rooted in the human race.
But let us take into consideration the two revolutionary principles which so greatly impressed and fired the consciousness of the university students of several generations. One principle was: "There can be no function without an organ." The other principle which created much enthusiasm among studious youths was: "The function creates the organ." What! There is no function without an organ, nor can the function even exist without the organ; and yet, on the other hand, the function without the organ can exist so vigorously as to create? No such glaring and tangible contradiction had ever existed in any theory.
And it cannot be said that Darwinism and the principles of Lamarck were hastily studied and confused in a varied series of philosophical theories, for Darwinism had isolated itself as a victorious idea which drives out all other ideas, as the light of day disperses the darkness of night. And students dwelt upon it, anxious to construct a new morality and a new conscience; therefore these two principles were not studied coldly and languidly. Moreover, they penetrated together into the consciousness and excited enthusiasm each on its own account; on such a triumphant contradiction it was proposed to destroy a world and create another.
The final conclusion of thought, then, was this: "We are mere beasts, there is no substantial difference between the animals and ourselves; we are apes, but our more remote ancestors were earthworms." With what ardor did professors from their chairs analyze the psychology of men, to prove that, try as we may, we can find nothing in ourselves which we do not share with animals, and with what enthusiasm did their pupils applaud them! When professors of psychiatry removed the brains of pigeons and monkeys by vivisection, and, after curing the creatures, exhibited them at international psychological congresses, devoting the most sincere attention to the study of their psychical reactions, observing the attitudes of their bodies, their activity of perception, and similar things—all really believed that an animal without a brain could throw light upon the psychology of man!
When we think that this was the epoch of positivism—that is to say, of those who could not believe without touching, we are profoundly impressed by this reflection: The intelligence, then, is threatened by dangers, like the spirit. It may be obscured, it may contain a contradiction, an "error," without perceiving it, and as a result of a single unnoticed error it may rush into a species of delirium, a mortal aberration. Like the spirit, then, it has its way of salvation, and it needs to be sustained lest it should perish. The support it requires is not that of the senses. Like the spirit, it needs a continual purification, which, like the fish of Tobias, heals the eyes of their blindness. That "self-care" which the hygiene of to-day prescribes for the body, and which makes us spend so much time even on cleaning and polishing our nails, should be extended to the inner man, that this may preserve its health and its integrity.
This should be the object of "the education of the intelligence." To educate the intelligence is to save it from its peculiar perils of disease and death; it is to "purge it of its offenses." We shall not educate the intelligence if we weary it by making it learn things. This is patent in these days of ours, when the victims of nervous disorders and lunacy abound, and when, even among those who are considered healthy, the material consequences of madness may explode, threatening the whole of humanity with ruin.
Our care of the child should be governed, not by the desire "to make him learn things," but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called the intelligence. If to this end we must consecrate ourselves as did the vestals of old, it will be a work worthy of so great a result.
The creative imagination of science is based upon truth.—If, a century ago, some one had told the men who were traveling in stage-coaches and using oil-lamps that some day New York would blaze with light at midnight; that men would ask for succor in mid-ocean and that their message would be understood on land, that their flight in the air would surpass that of the eagle—our good forefathers would have smiled incredulously. Their imaginations would never have been able to conceive these things. To them, modern men would have seemed almost like men of another species.
This is because the imagination of modern men is based upon the positive researches of science, whereas the men of past ages allowed their minds to wander in the world of unreality.
This single fact has changed the face of the world.
When man loses himself in mere speculations, his environment will remain unchanged, but when imagination starts from contact with reality, thought begins to construct works by means of which the external world becomes transformed; almost as if the thought of man had assumed a marvelous power: the power to create.
It is thus we imagine the thought of God; all creation is the divine thought, which has the property of realizing itself. God thought: and behold! light, the order of creation, living things, appeared.
Modern man by the method of positive science seems to have found the secret trace of thought which puts him in the divine path, which gives him the revelation of his true nature, as indicated in the words of Scripture: "Let us make man in our image and likeness."
Thus human intelligence said: "Let there be light"—and there was a magic effulgence which comes and goes at a touch. "Let man fly in the air and rise far above all the birds of creation"—and it was so. "Let the voices of shipwrecked mariners travel mysteriously and without sound, and reach distant places"—and it was so. "Let things multiply, plants in their varieties, so that all men may have the means of life more abundantly"—and it was so.
The imagination has created when it has started from creation: that is, when it has first taken in existing truth. Only then has it accomplished marvelous things.
Like the tiny bird which hid under the wing of an eagle about to soar, and when it had been thus borne up to an immense height, disengaged itself from the eagle and began to fly still higher by its own efforts—so too is man, who at first holds fast to Nature, attaches himself to her by means of the most severe speculations, and with her soars aloft in search of truth; then he disengages himself from her, and his imagination creates over and above Nature herself. In this manner man seems to reflect divine attributes; the marvelous and miraculous issue from him in such grandiose form that the man of the past, the wren without the eagle, could not even have conceived it.
Original sin is an allegory of this eternal story, of the man who wished to act for himself, to substitute himself for God, to emancipate himself from Him, and to create. Whereupon he fell into impotence, slavery and misery.
The mind that works by itself, independently of truth, works in a void. Its creative power is a means for working upon reality. But it confuses the means with the end, it is lost.
This kind of sin of the intelligence, so akin to original sin, the sin of confounding the means with the end, recurs in every form as a "force of inertia" which pervades the psychical life. Thus man confounds the means, which is simpler, easier and more comprehensible, with the end in many of his functions. Thus, for example, when nutrition is made a pretext for gluttony, and the appetite an end in itself, the body, instead of renewing itself in health and purity, is poisoned. Again, when in the reproduction of species the sexual emotion becomes an end in itself rather than a means for the renewal of life, degeneration and sterility result. Man is guilty of a like sin against the intelligence when he employs his creative activity of thought for its own sake, without basing it upon truth; by so doing he creates an unreal world, full of error, and destroys the possibility of creating in reality, like a god, producing external works.
Thus positive science represents to us the "redemption" of thought; its purification from original sin, a return to the natural laws of psychical energy. Scientists are like those men of the Bible story who, after Israel had come out of Egypt, were permitted to explore the Land of Promise, and who came back with such a huge cluster of grapes that it took two men to carry it, and the people saw it with amazement.
So have the scientists of to-day penetrated into the Promised Land of truth, where lies the secret which enables man to scrutinize Nature; and they have come out therefrom, bearing marvelous fruits for all men to see. The secret is a simple one: it consists of an exact method based on observation, prudence, and patience. All men might be allowed to share the secret, for indeed such virtues correspond to the "occult," intimate needs of their spiritual life.
It may be asked: Why should only explorers enter in, while the people remain outside, passively enjoying the fruits of their labors?
Is it because the method of positive science, which puts man in the way of knowing the truth, of gathering up realities—and hence of building up his own imagination thereupon—is a monopoly, the privilege of the chosen few?
That method which denotes the redemption of the intelligence ought to be the method by which all new humanity is molded—the formative method of the new generation.
In the Bible story, the explorers were the messengers, and the witnesses to the existence of the Promised Land, into which the whole people was to enter. And so it is here: all men should come under the influence of the scientific method; and every child should be able to experiment at first hand, to observe, and to put himself in contact with reality. Thus the flights of the imagination will start from a higher plane henceforth, and the intelligence will be directed into its natural channels of creation.
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Truth is also the basis of artistic imagination.—The work of the intelligence is not limited to the exact observation and the simple, logical reasoning upon which great scientific discoveries may be founded. There is a more exalted work, confronting which none can say, as in the presence of certain scientific discoveries; "I also might have been able to do this."
Dante, Milton, Goethe, Raphael, Wagner, are mighty mysteries, miracles of intelligence, which cannot be classed with the simple processes of observation and reasoning. Nevertheless, every man has his share of artistic imagination, he has the instinct to create the beautiful with his mind; and from this instinct duly developed come all the vast treasures of art, scattered almost like crumbs of gold wherever there was an intensity of civil life, wherever the intelligence had time to mature in peace. In every province which has preserved traces of ancient peoples we find local artistic types of work, of furniture, of poetic songs and popular music. This multiform creation of the inner man, then, enfolds him and protects his spirit in its intellectual needs, just as the iridescent shell encloses the mollusc.
In addition to the work of observing material reality, there is a creative work which lifts man up from earth and transports him into a higher world which every soul may attain, within its individual limits.
Yet no one can say that man creates artistic products out of nothing. What is called creation is in reality a composition, a construction raised upon a primitive material of the mind, which must be collected from the environment by means of the senses. This is the general principle summed up in the ancient axiom: Nihil est in intellectu quod prius non fuerit in sensa (There is nothing in the intellect which was not first in the senses). We are unable to "imagine" things which do not actually present themselves to our senses; even language would be lacking to us to explain things lying beyond those customary limits by which our consciousness is bounded. The imagination of Michelangelo was unable to picture God otherwise than as a venerable old man with a white beard. When we try to imagine the eternal torments of hell, we talk of fire; we think of Paradise as a place of light. Those born blind and deaf can form no definite idea of sensations they have never been able to perceive. It is well known that persons blind from their birth imagine colors by comparing them to sounds: for instance, they imagine red as the sound of a trumpet, blue as the sweet music of the violin. The deaf, when they read descriptions of delicious music, imagine the classic beauty of a painted picture. The temperaments of poets and artists are pre-eminently sensorial. And all the senses do not contribute in equal measure to give a type to the individual imagination; but certain senses are often predominant. Musicians are auditive, and are inclined to describe the world from the sounds it conveys to them; the warbling of the nightingale in the silence of a wood; the patter of the rain in the solitude of the country-side, may be as springs of inspiration for great musical composers; and some of them, describing a tract of country, will dwell only on its silences and noises. Others again, whose susceptibilities are predominantly visual, are impressed by the forms and colors of things. Or it may be the motion, the flexuosity, the impetus of things; the tactile impressions of softness and harshness, which make up the descriptive content of imaginative types in whom the tactile and muscular sensations predominate.
There are persons who have had non-sensorial impressions, and they are persons whose spiritual life was of very great intensity. They have internal impressions which cannot be accounted fruits of the imagination, but must be accepted as realities simply perceived. That they are realities is affirmed not only by the introspection of normal subjects, but by the effect upon their internal personality. "The revelations vouchsafed by God," says Saint Teresa, "are distinguished by the great spiritual benefits with which they enrich the soul; they are accompanied by light, discernment, and wisdom." But if such persons wish to describe these impressions which do not penetrate by means of the senses, they are obliged to borrow the language of sensorial impression. "I heard a voice," says the Blessed Raymond of Capua, "which was not in the air, and which pronounced words that reached my spirit, but not my ear; nevertheless I understood it more distinctly than if it had come to me from an external voice. I could not reproduce this voice, if I can call that a voice which had no sound. This voice formed words and presented them to my spirit." The Life of Saint Teresa abounds in similar descriptions, in which she tries to convey, by the inappropriate language of the senses, what she saw, not with her eyes, but with her soul.
The difference between these internal impressions, which occur in others as well as in saints (and certainly do not constitute saintliness), and the hallucinations of the insane, is clearly marked. In the madman, an excitement of the cerebral cortex reproduces old images deposited by the sensorial memory, which project themselves into the external world whence they were taken, with external sensorial characteristics; so that the sufferer really believes that he sees his phantasms with his actual eyes, and that he hears the voices which persecute him; he is the victim of a pathological condition; the whole personality reveals signs of his organic decadence, the concomitants of his psychical disintegration.
Setting aside, then, direct spiritual impressions of very rare occurrence, not to be looked upon even as aids to sanctity, impressions which may form suitable subjects of study for specialists such as teleologists or the members of the English Society of Psychical Research, but which do not enter into educational conceptions, there remains for our consideration but a single material of construction for intellectual activities: that of the senses.
Imagination can have only a sensory basis.
The sensory education which prepares for the accurate perception of all the differential details in the qualities of things, is therefore the foundation of the observation of things and of phenomena which present themselves to our senses; and with this it helps us to collect from the external world the material for the imagination.
Imaginative creation has no mere vague sensory support; that is to say, it is not the unbridled divagation of the fancy among images of light, color, sounds and impressions; but it is a construction firmly allied to reality; and the more it holds fast to the forms of the external created world, the loftier will the value of its internal creations be. Even in imagining an unreal and superhuman world, the imagination must be contained within limits which recall those of reality. Man creates, but on the model of that divine creation in which he is materially and spiritually immersed.
In literary works of the highest order, such as the Divina Commedia, we admire the continual recurrence to the mind of the supreme poet of material and tangible things which illustrate by comparison the things imagined:
As doves By fond desire invited, on wide wings And firm to their sweet nest returning home, Cleave the air, wafted by their will along; Thus issued from that troop where Dido ranks, They, through the ill air speeding. (Carey's translation of Dante's Inferno, Canto V.)
And as a man with difficult short breath Forespent with toiling, 'scaped from sea to shore, Turns to the perilous wide waste, and stands At gaze; e'en so my spirit, that yet fail'd Struggling with terror, turn'd to view the straits That none hath passed and lived. (Carey's translation of Dante's Inferno, Canto I.)
As sheep that step from forth their fold by one Or pairs, or three at once; meanwhile the rest Stand fearfully, bending the eye and nose To ground, and what the foremost does, that do. The others, gathering round her if she stops, Simple and quiet, nor the cause discern; So saw I moving to advance the first Who of that fortunate crew were at the head, Of modest mien, and graceful in their gait. (Carey's translation of Dante's Purgatorio, Canto III.)
As though translucent and smooth glass or wave Clear and unmoved, and flowing not so deep As that its bed is dark, the shape returns So faint of our impictured lineaments That on white forehead set, a pearl as strong Comes to the eye; such saw I many a face All stretch'd to speak. (Carey's translation of Dante's Paradiso, Canto III.)
Dante's metaphors are profuse and marvelous, but every lofty writer and every great orator perpetually links the fruits of the imagination with the observation of fact; and then we say that he is a genius, full of imagination and knowledge, and that his thought is clear and vital.
"As a pack of hounds, after vainly pursuing a hare, returns in mortification to the master with hanging heads and drooping tails, so on that tumultuous night did the mercenaries return to Don Rodrigo's stronghold" (Manzoni, I promessi Sposi).
Imagery is confined to actual figures; and it is this measure and this form which give power to the creations of the mind. The imaginative writer should possess a rich store of perceptive observations, and the more accurate and perfect these are, the more vigorous will be the form he creates. The insane talk of fantastic things, but we do not therefore say that they have a great deal of "imagination"; there is a vast gulf between the delirious confusion of thought and the metaphorical eloquence of the imagination. In the first case there is a total incapacity to perceive actual things correctly, and also to construct organically with the intelligence; in the second, the two things are co-existent as forms closely bound up one with the other.
The value of imaginative speech is determined by these conditions: that the images used should be original, that their author should himself link together the actual and the created images, his own skill making him susceptible to their just and harmonious association. If he repeats or imitates the images of others, he achieves nothing. Hence it is necessary that every artist should be an observer; and so, speaking of the generality of intelligences, it may be said that in order to develop the imagination it is necessary for every one first of all to put himself in contact with reality.
The same thing holds good in art. The artist "imagines" his figure; he does not copy it, he "creates" it. But this creation is in fact the fruit of the mind which is rooted in the observation of reality. The painter and the sculptor are, par excellence, types of visual susceptibility to the forms and colors of their environment, capable of perceiving its harmonies and contrasts; and it is by refining his powers of observation that the artist finally perfects himself and succeeds in creating a masterpiece. The immortal art of Greece was above all an art based on observation; the scanty clothing which was the fashion of his day enabled the Greek artist to contemplate the human form freely; and the exquisite sensibility of his eye enabled him to distinguish the beautiful body from that which lacked harmony, until under the impulse of genius, he was able to create the ideal figure, conceived by the fusion of individual beauties chosen from details in the sensorial storehouse of the mind. The artist, when he creates certainly does not compose by putting together the parts which are to form the whole as in a mosaic; in the ardor of inspiration he sees the complete new figure, born of his genius; but details he has accumulated have served to nourish it, as the blood nourishes the new man in the bosom of his mother.
Raphael continually visited the Trastevere, a popular quarter where the most beautiful women in Rome were to be found, in order to seek the type of a Madonna. It was here he became acquainted with the Fornarina and his models. But when he painted the Madonna he reproduced "the image of his soul." We are told that Michelangelo would spend entire evenings gazing into space; and when they asked him at what he was gazing, he replied: "I see a dome." It was after this form, so marvelously created within him, that the famous cupola of St. Peter's in Rome was fashioned. But it could never have been born, even in the mind of Michelangelo, if his architectural studies had not prepared the material for it.
No genius has ever been able to create the absolutely new. We have only to think of certain forms much used in art, and heavy and grotesque as the human fancy which is incapable of rising above the earth. It seems to me amazing that the figure of the winged angel should still persist, and that no artist should have yet improved upon it. To represent a being more diaphanous than man, and without corporeal weight, we have robust beings whose backs are furnished with colossal wings covered with heavy feathers. Strange indeed is this fusion in a single creature of such incompatible natural features as hair and feathers, and this attribution to a human being of six limbs—arms, legs and wings, as to an insect. This "strange conception" continues to be so materialized, not certainly as an artistic idea, but as the result of poverty of language. Indeed, we talk of angels "flying" because our language is human and earthly, and we cannot imagine the attributes of angels. Few indeed are the artists who in pictures of the Annunciation represent the Angel as a luminous, delicate, and evanescent figure.
The more perfect the approximation to truth, the more perfect is art.
When, for instance, in a drawing-room, some one pays us a compliment, if this is founded upon one of our real qualities, and touches it closely, we feel legitimate satisfaction, because what has been said is relevant, and we may conclude that the person has observed us and feels a sincere admiration for us. We accordingly think of such a person: He is subtle and intellectual; and we feel disposed to reciprocate his friendliness. But if the compliment praises us for qualities we do not possess, or distorts or exaggerates our true attributes, we think with disgust: What a coarse creature! and feel even more coldly to him than before.
Dante's sublime sonnet must certainly have touched the heart of Beatrice profoundly:
My lady looks so gentle and so pure When yielding salutation by the way, That the tongue trembles and has nought to say, And the eyes, which fain would see, may not endure. And still, amid the praise she hears secure, She walks with humbleness for her array; Seeming a creature sent from Heaven, to stay On earth, and show a miracle made sure. She is so pleasant in the eyes of men That through the sight the inmost heart doth gain A sweetness which needs proof to know it by; And from between her lips there seems to move A soothing essence that is full of love, Saying for ever to the spirit: "Sigh!" (Rossetti's translation, Dante's Vita nuova, section XXVI.)
A very different impression must have been made on the self-respect and delicate sensibility of a feminine soul by this other sonnet, which is clumsy and bombastic because it is full of inappropriate and exaggerated metaphors:
Your salutation and your glances bright Deal death to him who greets you on your way; Love my assailant, heedless of my plight, Cares nought if what he does shall heal or slay.
Straight to the mark his arrow flew apace Piercing my heart and cleaving it in twain; I was as one who sees Death face to face; No word I spake—so great my burning pain.
As through the window of the lordly tower The missile hurtles, shattering all within, So did the arrow enter through my eye;
Bereft of life and spirit in that hour I stood there, to a man of brass akin, That mocks with semblance of humanity. (Guinizelli, 1300.)
If, then, the true basis of the imagination is reality, and its perception is related to exactness of observation, it is necessary to prepare children to perceive the things in their environment exactly, in order to secure for them the material required by the imagination. Further, the exercise of the intelligence, reasoning within sharply defined limits, and distinguishing one thing from another, prepares a cement for imaginative constructions; because these are the more beautiful the more closely they are united to a form, and the more logical they are in the association of individual images. The fancy which exaggerates and invents coarsely does not put the child on the right road.
A true preparation digs the beds where the waters which well up from intellectual creation will flow in smiling or majestic rivers, without overflowing and so destroying the beauty of internal order.
In the matter of causing the springing up of these rushing waters of internal creation we are powerless. "Never to obstruct the spontaneous outburst of an activity, even though it springs forth like the humble trickle of some almost invisible source," and "to wait"—this is our task. Why should we delude ourselves with the idea that we can "create an intelligence," we who can do nothing but "observe and await" the blade of grass which is sprouting, the microbe which is dividing itself?
We must consider that creative imagination must rise like an illuminated palace, on dark foundations deeply imbedded in the rock, if it is to be anything but a house of cards, an illusion, an error; and the salvation of the intelligence is "to be able to plant the feet on firm ground."
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Imagination in children.—It is a very common belief that the young child is characterized by a vivid imagination, and therefore a special education should be adopted to cultivate this special gift of nature.
His mentality differs from ours; he escapes from our strongly marked and restricted limits, and loves to wander in the fascinating worlds of unreality, a tendency which is also characteristic of savage peoples.
This childish characteristic, however, gave rise to the generalization of a materialistic idea now discredited: "Ontogenesis sums up philogenesis": that is, the life of the individual reproduces the life of the species; just as the life of man reproduces the life of civilization, so in young children we find the psychical characteristics of savages. Hence the child, like the savage, is attracted by the fantastic, the supernatural, and the unreal.
Instead of indulging in such flights of scientific fancy as these, it would be much simpler to declare that an organism as yet immature, like that of the child, has remote affinities with mentalities less mature than our own, like those of savages. But even if we refrain from interfering with the belief of those who interpret childish mentality as "a savage state," we may point out that as, in any case, this savage state is transient, and must be superseded, education should help the child to overcome it; it should not develop the savage state, nor keep the child therein.
All the forms of imperfect development we encounter in the child have some resemblance to corresponding characteristics in the savage; for instance, in language, poverty of expression, the existence only of concrete terms, and the generalization of words, by means of which a single word serves several purposes and indicates several objects, the absence of inflections in verbs, causing the child to use only the infinitive. But no one would maintain that "for this reason" we ought to restrict the child artificially to such primitive language, to enable him to pass through his prehistoric period easily.
And if some peoples remain permanently in a state of imagination in which unrealities predominate, our child, on the contrary, belongs to a people for whom the delights of the mind are to be found in the great works of art, and the civilizing constructions of science, and in those products of the higher imagination which represent the environment in which the intelligence of our child is destined to form itself. It is natural that in the hazy period of his mental development the child should be attracted by fantastic ideas; but this must not make us forget that he is to be our continuator, and for that reason should be superior to us; and the least we ought to give him to this end is the maximum at our disposal.
A form of imagination supposed to be "proper" to childhood, and almost universally recognized as creative imagination, is that spontaneous work of the infant mind by which children attribute desirable characteristics to objects which do not possess them.
Who has not seen a child riding upon and whipping his father's walking-stick, as if he were mounted upon a real horse? There we have a proof of "imagination" in the child! What pleasure it gives to children to construct a splendid coach with chairs and armchairs; and while some recline inside, looking out with delight at an imaginary landscape, or bowing to an applauding crowd, other children, perched on the backs of chairs, beat the air as if they were whipping fiery horses. Here is another proof of "imagination."
But if we observe rich children, who own quiet ponies, and drive out habitually in carriages and motor-cars, we shall find that they look with a touch of contempt at the child who is running about whipping a stick in great excitement; they would be astonished to see the delight of children who imagine themselves to be drawn along by stationary armchairs. They would say of such children: "They are very poor; they act thus because they have no horses or carriages." An adult resigns himself to his lot; a child creates an illusion. But this is not a proof of imagination, it is a proof of an unsatisfied desire; it is not an activity bound up with gifts of nature; it is a manifestation of conscious, sensitive poverty. No one, we may be sure, will say that in order to educate a rich child we should take away his pony and give him a stick. Nor is it necessary to prevent the poor child from being content with his stick. If a poor man, a beggar, had nothing but dry bread to eat, and if he placed himself by the grated window of a rich underground kitchen because when he smelt its savory odors he imagined himself to be eating excellent dishes together with his bread, who could prevent him? But no one would say that in order to develop the imaginative activity of the fortunate persons for whom the actual dishes were destined, it would be well to take away their meat and give them bread and fragrance.
A poor mother who was devoted to her little child offered him the piece of bread which was all she had to give in this manner: she divided it into two portions, and gave them to him in succession, saying: "This is the bread, this is the meat." The child was quite content. But no mother would deprive her child of food in order to develop his imagination in this way.
And yet I was once seriously asked by some one if it would be injurious to give a piano to a child who was continually practising with his fingers upon the table, as if he were playing the piano. "And why should it be injurious?" I asked. "Because, if I do so, he will learn music, it is true, but his imagination will no longer be exercised, and I do not know which would be best for him."
Some of Froebel's games are based upon similar beliefs. A wooden brick is given to a child with the words: "This is a horse." Bricks are then arranged in a certain order, and he is told: "This is the stable; now let us put the horse into the stable." Then the bricks are differently arranged: "This is a tower, this is the village church, etc." In such exercises the objects (bricks) lend themselves to illusion less readily than a stick used as a horse, which the child can at least bestride and beat, moving along the while. The building of towers and churches with horses brings the mental confusion of the child to its culmination. Moreover, in this case it is not the child who "imagines spontaneously" and works with his brains, for at the moment he is required to see that which the teacher suggests. And it is impossible to know whether the child really thinks that the stable has become a church, or whether his attention has wandered elsewhere. He would, of course, like to move, but he cannot, because he is obliged to contemplate the kind of cinematograph of which the teacher speaks in the series of images she suggests, though they exist only in the shape of pieces of wood all of the same size.
What is it that is thus being cultivated in these immature minds? What do we find akin to this in the adult world which will enable us to understand for what definitive forms we prepare the mind by such a method of education? There are, indeed, men who really take a tree for a throne, and issue royal commands: some believe themselves to be God, for "false perceptions," or the graver form, "illusions," are the beginning of false reasoning, and the concomitants of delirium. The insane produce nothing, nor can those children, condemned to the immobility of an education which tends to develop their innocent manifestations of unsatisfied desires into mania, produce anything either for themselves or others.
We, however, suppose that we are developing the imagination of children by making them accept fantastic things as realities. Thus, for instance, in Latin countries, Christmas is personified by an ugly woman, the Befana, who comes through the walls and down the chimneys, bringing toys for the good children, and leaving only lumps of coal for the naughty ones. In Anglo-Saxon countries, on the other hand, Christmas is an old man covered with snow who carries a huge basket containing toys for children, and who really enters their houses by night. But how can the imagination of children be developed by what is, on the contrary, the fruit of our imagination? It is we who imagine, not they; they believe, they do not imagine. Credulity is, indeed, a characteristic of immature minds which lack experience and knowledge of realities, and are as yet devoid of that intelligence which distinguishes the true from the false, the beautiful from the ugly, the possible from the impossible.
Is it, then, credulity we wish to develop in our children, merely because they show themselves to be credulous at an age when they are naturally ignorant and immature? Of course, credulity may exist in adults; but it exists in contrast with intelligence, and is neither its foundation nor its fruit. It is in periods of intellectual darkness that credulity germinates; and we are proud to have outlived these epochs. We speak of credulity as a mark of the uncivilized.
Here is a piquant anecdote of the seventeenth century. The Pont Neuf in Paris was the main highway for foot-passengers, and a meeting-place for loungers. Many mountebanks and charlatans mingled with the crowd. There was one of these charlatans who was making a fortune; he sold an ointment from China which enlarged the eyes, decreased the size of the mouth, lengthened noses that were too short, and shortened those that were too long, De Sartine, Chief of the Police, called up this charlatan to have him imprisoned, and said to him:
"Mariolo, how do you manage to attract so many people and gain so much money?"
"Sir," replied the other, "how many persons, do you suppose, cross the bridge in one day?"
"From ten to twelve thousand," replied de Sartine.
"Well, sir, how many intelligent persons do you suppose there are among them?"
"A hundred," replied the official.
"That's a liberal allowance," said the charlatan, "but let us leave it at that. I will rely on the other nine thousand nine hundred for my living."
The situation has so far changed between those days and our own that there are now more intelligent and fewer credulous persons. Education, therefore, should not be directed to credulity but to intelligence. He who bases education on credulity builds upon sand.
I know of an incident which is perhaps reproduced in our society thousands of times. Two girls of noble family had been educated in a convent, where, to safeguard them from the seductions and vanities of the life for which they were destined, the nuns had persuaded them that the world is full of deceit, and that if, when people praise us, we could conceal ourselves and listen to what they say when we have disappeared, we should hear very chastening things. When they were of an age to be presented in Society, the two youthful princesses made their first appearance at an evening reception, to which their mother had invited a great many guests. All lavished praises on the charming young girls. In the drawing-room there was an alcove concealed by a large curtain. Curious to hear what would be said of them when they disappeared, the two agreed to slip out and hide behind the curtain. Scarcely had the attractive objects of the general admiration vanished when the praises which had been kept within due bounds in their presence, were redoubled. The two girls told me that they experienced an indescribable revulsion of feeling at the moment; they thought that everything the nuns had made them believe was false; they renounced religion there and then, and made up their minds to throw themselves into the pleasures of society. "We afterwards had to reconstruct our lives ourselves, embrace the truths of religion afresh, and understand for ourselves the emptiness of social brilliance."
Credulity gradually disappears with experience, and as the mind matures: instruction helps towards this end. In nations as in persons, the evolution of civilization and of souls tends to diminish credulity; knowledge, as is commonly said, dispels the darkness of ignorance. In the void which is ignorance, the fancy easily wanders, just because it lacks the support which would enable it to rise to a higher level. Thus the Pillars of Hercules disappeared when the Straits of Gibraltar became the gates of the oceans; and no Columbus could now persuade the Red Indians, whom the great American spirit of democracy receives into its civilizing schools, that the heavens are obedient to him, darkening the sun at his command; for eclipses are phenomena as well known to them as to the white races.
Is this illusory imagination, based upon credulity, a thing we ought to "develop" in children? We certainly have no wish to see it persist; in fact, where we are told that a child "no longer believes in fairy-tales," we rejoice. We say then: "He is no longer a baby." This is what should happen and we await it: the day will come when he will no longer believe these stories. But if this maturation takes place, we ought to ask ourselves: "What have we done to help it? What support did we offer to this frail mind to enable it to grow straight and strong?" The child overcomes his difficulties in spite of our endeavor to keep him in ignorance and illusion. The child overcomes himself and us. He goes where his internal force of development and maturation lead him. He might, however, say to us: "How much you have made us suffer! The work of raising ourselves was hard enough already, and you oppressed us." Would not such conduct be much as if we compressed the gums to prevent the teeth from coming, because it is characteristic of babies to be toothless, or prevented the little body from standing erect, because at first the characteristic of the infant is that it does not rise to its feet? Indeed, we do something of the same sort when we deliberately prolong the poverty and inaccuracy of childish speech; instead of helping the child by making him listen intently to the distinct enunciation of speech sounds, and watch the movements of the mouth, we adopt his rudimentary language, and repeat the primordial sounds he utters, lisping and perverting the consonants in the manner habitual to those making first efforts to articulate words. Thus we prolong a formative period full of difficulty and exertion for the child, thrusting him back into the fatiguing infant state.
And we are behaving in exactly the same manner to-day with regard to the so-called education of the imagination.
We are amused by the illusions, the ignorance, and the errors of the immature mind, just as at no very remote date we were amused to see an infant laugh when it was tossed up and down, a proceeding now condemned by infantile hygiene as wrong and dangerous in the extreme. In short, it is we who are amused by the Christmas festivities and the credulity of the child. If we confess the truth, we must admit that we are somewhat like the fine lady who took a superficial interest in a hospital for poor children, but who kept on declaring: "If there were to be no more sick children, I should be quite unhappy." We, too, might say: "If the credulity of children were to cease, a great pleasure would be taken from our lives."
It is one of the careless errors of our day to arrest artificially a stage of development for our amusement; as in the ancient courts the bodily growth of certain victims was arrested to make them dwarfs and the pastime of the king. Such a statement may seem severe, but it rests on an actual fact. We are unconscious of it, it is true; yet we speak of it continually when we say among ourselves with lofty scorn of the age of immaturity: "Really, we are not children." If we would refrain from prolonging the child's immaturity in order to be able to contemplate his inferior state in immobility, and would, on the contrary, allow free growth admiring the marvels of his progression ever on the road of higher conquests, we should say of him, with Christ: "He who would be perfect must become as a little child."
If what is called infant imagination is the product of "immaturity" of the mind, combined with the poverty in which we leave the child and the ignorance in which he finds himself, the first thing to do is to enrich his life by an environment in which he will become the owner of something, and to enrich his mind by knowledge and experience based on reality. And having given him these, we must allow him to mature in liberty. It is from freedom of development that we may expect the manifestations of his imagination.
To enrich the child, who is the poorest among us, because he has nothing and is the slave of all—this is our first duty towards him. It will be said: Must we, then, give horses, carriages, and pianos to all children? By no means. Remedies are never direct when a complex life is in question. The child who has nothing is the one who dreams of things the most impossible of attainment. The destitute dream of millions, the oppressed of a throne. But he who possesses something attaches himself to that which he possesses to preserve and increase it reasonably.
A person without employment will dream of becoming a prince; but a teacher in a school dreams of becoming a head master. Thus the child who has a "house" of his own, who possesses brooms, rubbers, pottery, soap, dressing-tables and furniture, is happy in the care of all these things. His desires are moderated, and the peace he derives from them opens up a life of expansion to his internal creative activities.
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It is "living among real possessions of his own" which calms the child, and assuages those desires which consume his precious powers in the vanity of illusion. Such a result is not to be achieved by imagining that he is living among possessions of his own. Some teachers in charge of a model orphanage once said to me: "We too make our children perform the exercises of practical life which you describe; come and see." I went. Some of the authorities were also present, and a university professor of pedagogy.
Some children seated at a little table with playthings were laying the table for a doll's meal; their faces were quite without expression. I looked in amazement at the persons who had invited me; they seemed quite satisfied; they evidently thought that there was no difference between laying a table in play and laying it for an actual meal; for them imaginary life and real life were the same thing. May not this subtle form of error be instilled in infancy and afterwards persist as a mental attitude? It was perhaps this error which caused a famous Italian pedagogist to say to me: "Liberty a new thing? Pray read Comenius—you will find that it was already discussed in his times." I replied: "Yes, many talk of it, but the liberty I mean is a form of liberty actually realized." He seemed not to understand the difference. I ought to have asked: "Do you not believe that there is any difference between him who talks of millions and him who possesses them?"
To be contented with the imaginary, and to live as if what we imagine actually existed; to run after illusion, and "not to recognize" reality, is a thing so common that scarcely is it apprehended, and the cry of alarm raised: "Awake to truth, O man!" when the consciousness becomes aware of a kind of gnawing parasite which has wormed itself subtly into our intelligence.
The power to imagine always exists, whether or not it has a solid basis on which to rest and materials with which to build; but when it does not elaborate from reality and truth, instead of raising a divine structure it forms incrustations which compress the intelligence and prevent the light from penetrating thereto.
How much time and strength man has lost and is losing by this error! Just as vice, which is an exercise of function without purpose, wastes the body until it becomes diseased, so imagination unsustained by truth consumes the intelligence until it assumes characteristics akin to the mental characteristics of the insane.
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Fable and religion.—I have frequently heard it said that the education of the imagination on a basis of fancy prepares the soul of the child for religious education; and that an education based on "reality," as in this method we would adopt, is too arid, and tends to dry up the founts of spiritual life. Such reasoning, however, will not be accepted by religious persons. They know well that faith and fable are "as the poles apart," since fable is in itself a thing without faith, and faith is the very sentiment of truth, which should accompany man even unto death. Religion is not a product of fantastic imagination, it is the greatest of realities, the one truth to the religious man. It is the fount and basis of his life. The man without religion is not, certainly, a person without imagination, but rather one who lacks internal equilibrium; compared with the religious man he is less calm, less strong in adversity; not only this, but he is more unsettled in his own ideas. He is weaker and more unhappy; and it is in vain that he catches at imagination to create a world for himself outside reality. Something within him cries aloud in the words of David: "My soul is a-thirst for God." And if he hopes to reach the goal of his real life by the help of imagination alone, he may feel his feet giving way among quicksands at a supreme moment of effort.
When an apostle seeks to win a soul to religion, where man may plant his faltering feet on a rock, he appeals to understanding, not to imagination, for he knows that his task is not to create something, but to call aloud to that which is slumbering in the depths of the heart. He knows that he must shake off the torpor from a feeble life as he would shake the snow from a living body buried in a drift, not build up a puppet of ice which will melt under the rays of the sun.
It is true that fantastic imagination penetrates religion, but in the guise of error. In the Middle Ages, for instance, epidemics were ascribed with great simplicity, to a direct act of divine chastisement; to-day they are attributed to the direct action of microbes. Papin's steam machines suggested diabolical intervention. But these are precisely the kind of prejudices which, like all fantasies, swarm in the void of ignorance.