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The best-known collections of chilFrom The Fortnightly Review.
dren's poetry (so called) are Mr. F. T. SOME NOTES ON POETRY FOR CHILDREN.
Palgrave's "Children's Treasury of EnThe mass of material which is indi- glish Song,” Mr. Coventry Patmore's cated by the phrase "Children's Poetry” “Child's Garland of Verse,” and Mr. is roughly to be divided into two classes, Andrew Lang's “Blue Poetry Book," subjective poetry and objective poetry. the respective editors of which seem to The subjective deals with children's have compiled in the main for themthoughts and the state of childhood, selves, and then, by way of averting a mostly from within, and very fre charge of selfishness, to have addressed quently is genuine poetry; the objective the book to a younger generation. Beis narrative and descriptive, written fore looking into these anthologies, it entirely from without, and is rarely any should be understood that one finds thing but rhyme and metre combined to fault only with their avowed destinainstruct, amuse,
or entertain. (The tion. As a collection of poems about word “poetry," however, may be re- childhood each in its own way is de tained as a term of convenience, if not lightful, although even then not satisas an accurate description.) Examples factory. It is as vehicles for the enterin the subjective class are the child tainment of young readers that they are poems of Wordsworth and Blake; good so sadly to seek. specimens of the objective class are Among the total number of pieces in "John Gilpin," and "James and the the three collections I find not more Shoulder of Mutton.” With subjective than thirty which should be included if poetry children have no sympathy- the pleasure of the child were the sole they do not need it, for every child is its concern of the editor. These are, alown poet; but to grown-up people who most without exception, narratives, and once were children and can remember, as such should be chosen for their init may offer rich enjoyment. Hitherto terest as stories, and not for intrinsic in collections of poetry aimed at the poetical merit at all; although, on the heads of child readers, the relative pro other hand, a good tale presented in portion of the subjective kind, which conspicuously bad
would of they cannot begin to comprehend or course be omitted from such a volume appreciate, to the objective, w'sich they as is here foreshadowed. Each of the do like, has been as ten to one or even three editors draws largely upon greater. I think it is time that this' Wordsworth. I should take not a line. injustice should be removed. I think Each of the three editors quotes Gray's children deserve to have a volume of "Elegy." I should as soon think of persuasive, fascinating verse which they printing Pope's “Essay on Man." Mr. may read or listen to from cover to Lang borrows freely from Burns; and cover without suspicion and without how the future is discounted! On the drowsiness, prepared for them with that other hand he gives Peacock's “War singleness of purpose which directed Song of Dynas Vawr,” which is a disMr. Henley when compiling his admi- criminating choice, and Macaulay's rable “Lyra Heroica” for boys; while "Armada" and "Ivry," and, as might be for adult readers might be gathered expected, several of the finest of the old within two covers a posy of the best ballads. These selections are, I think, poetry about children, fitted by its truth good; but I would omit the "Ancient and beauty to keep their hearts green Mariner,” as being too good. Each of and sweet. As it is, neither of these the three editors offers much of Blake. collections exists, although not a few There, again, I think them wrong. are to be obtained which hold material Blake sang of childhood in the abstract, enough to form the nucleus of each. and to men and women whose hearts For the sake of convenience when refer- are right he is a fount of pure joy; but ring to them later, let us call these two children care nothing for childhood in necessary collections the Grown-up's the abstract-and well for them that it Anthology and the Child's Anthology. is so. A bad fairy seeking at the cradle
side for a luckless gift could not bestow which to glean. And he would find, upon a child aught less enviable than too, that several sources from which, at the habit of self-consciousness.
the first blush, one would think to borIn place of the abstract pieces, and row largely for the Child's Anthology any insistence on the condition of child. are suitable only for the Grown-up's. hood, I should like to see more fun and There is, pre-eminently, Robert Louis irresponsibility. The Child's Anthology Stevenson's "Child's Garden of Verses.” should amuse and delight from first Only the other day no less a critic than page to last; it should, although not in Mr. Traill was remarking upon the gain itself poetry, stand for poetry in the to the British nursery afforde~ by this minds of its young readers, and con- book, and yet our ideal editor for young vince them that poetry is a good thing readers would take not more than a and a pleasant, and thus, instead of be mere sip from its pages. He would hold ing indifferent to it, or worse, prejudiced that it is not a child's book at all; he against it, they would be prepared for would hold that it is essentially matter the time when, like Aurora Leigh, they for men and women, and is not to be "chanced” (as all of us should) upon the opened until we are on the other and poets in reality. To a mind that is not less delightful side of that phase of life ready for it poetry presents few attrac- of which it tells. To hand the book to tions, and these are diminished rather children, he would say, and bid them than augmented by the encomiastic learn it, is to manufacture so many statements of relatives and instructors. second-hand Stevensons. Every child, The governess's approval of Gray's more or less intelligently, does this kind “Elegy” does not make its portentous of thing for itself, and in heaven's name solemnity any less depressing to her keep it original! "A Child's Garden of pupils, unable yet to perceive its beauty; Verses,” however, may as well keep its and to confront the childish reader with reputation as a nursery classic, for it Wordsworth's great “Ode on the Inti- thus remains one of those books which mations of Immortality” (as Mr. Pal- parents buy for their children in order grave does) may lead him to believe that that they may read them themselves. it is not heaven, but the other place, that Every Christmas there is a wave of lies about us in our infancy.
such reflex generosity. How many of us there are who have "A Child's Garden of Verses" is the kept from the right attitude towards ideal field for the Grown-up's harvester. certain poems for no other reason than It stands alone. There is nothing like that in our young days we were inces- it, so intimate, so simply truthful, in our santly called upon to learn or to admire language, in any language. Herein the them! If, however, we had been given poet (at last one may use the words a volume of verse of the kind we were “poet” and “poetry" with no reservaready to enjoy, which, as I have said, tions) has accomplished that most diffihad stood for poetry in our minds, we cult of feats; he has recaptured in should have known no such barrier. maturity the thoughts, ambitions, purSuch volume should entertain poses, hopes, fears, philosophy of the throughout-it should offer legend, nar- child. We have speech from rative, and fun. It should be as gay as
the immortal it could be made, compatible with
Child tarrying all his lifetime in his heart. technical excellency.
The Child's Anthology would not be It is our joy, as we listen, to recapture easy to compile. On the other hand the them too. To say “Such an one was I,” editor setting about to prepare a book "Just so did I behave,” “I also hunted likely, by the emphasis which it laid behind the sofa back.” The man of upon the blessedness of the state of genius who can draw from his charmed chiidhood, to turn mature thoughts reader a genuine 'I also,” is assured of very pleasantly, if somewhat a niche in the heart. The “Child's Gar. gretfully, down the backward way, den of Verses” is one of those books would find an abundance of fields in which inspire the feeling-almost the
passion-of gratitude. As we read our He is a naughty child, I'm sure! eyes are a little moist-with satisfac- Or else his dear papa is poor. tion; and now, when the words have the The first seven lines might conceivably sympathetic alliance of Mr. Charles have been written by any average young Robinson's pencil, more so than ever.
rhymer. In the last-such a sweet (Never were author and artist in closer
reservation !-we have the child of accord. It adds matter to our grief for genius again. And there is vision in Mr. Stevenson's early death that he this description of a fairy land, as a could not see these winsome pictures
place:especially perhaps the last.)
As we read, years fall away, wrinkles are
Where all the children dine at five, smoothed out, the envious crow
And all the playthings come alive; moves his foot, world-knowledge so and in the thought as he launches his bitterly acquired evanesces, and once boats:again the man is a child at play, and a
Away down the river, bird is singing in his heart as of old.
A hundred miles or more, I said just now that in readi 3 these
Other little children verses, we can exclaim “I also." But
Shall bring my boats ashorethat was a slight exaggeration. Only a very few readers could honestly say vision that would be impossible to the that, for the Stevenson child is a child ordinary child. Similarly in this proof genius, removed from the ordinary nouncement on “The Whole Duty of child by a wide gulf. It is true that a Children,” the genius is in the last philosopher has recorded his belief that line:every child has genius; but, even if that
A child should always say what's true, be so, there are degrees. It is given to
And speak when he is spoken to, few to possess the wisdom and imagin
And behave mannerly at table: ings of this little gardener. The differ
At least as far as he is able. ence between the child of genius and th, ordinary child may be illustrated by But, with all deference to Mr. Traill, quotation. The ordinary child, im- this is not food for young readers. The pelled to verse in the presence of a cow, fact that Mr. Stevenson is always on the remarks:
side of the nurses does not make him a
writer for the nursery. To press poetry Thank you, pretty cow, that made Pleasant milk to soak my bread,
into the service of the disciplinarian is Every day and every night,
to mistake its function. What could Warm and sweet and fresh and white; be more delightful to read than this
optimistic "Thought,” with its humorand so on. The child of genius says:
ous vagueness: The friendly cow, all red and white,
The world is so full of a number of things, I love with all my heart;
I'm sure we should all be as happy as She gives me cream with all her might,
kings. To eat with apple tart.
-and yet how disenchanting would it And take these lines, called “System” be to hear the sentiment uttered by (noting what an advantage it is when one's own little son! These things child and man collaborate in a book should remain implicit in childhood; about children — the child gives the and when expressed, expressed by essence and the man the titles:)
deeds, not words. Every night my prayers I say,
One reflection that occurs and recurs And get my dinner every day,
in childhood, and should be illustrated And every day that I've been good, in the Grown-up's Anthology, finas no I get an orange after food.
prominent place in Mr. Stevenson's troubles most children. A poem in a These are the hills, these are the woods, modest, thoughtful volume entitled These are my starry solitudes; “Studies in Verse,” by Charles Grant, And there the river by whose brink which appeared in 1875, expresses a
pages: the unreason of grown-up people. The child that is not clean and neat, The spectacle of their elders wasting With lots of toys and things to eat, their opportunities
for enjoyment 1 Thoro is a little poem in Mrs. Woods' recent
The roaring lions come to drink. little girl's views on this question pery neatly. She has taken a doll into her I see the others far away, confidence, and beginning with the As if in firelit camp they lay, postulate (which every one will grant) And I, like to an Indian scout, "Grown-up people are so stupid, Dolly Around their party prowled about. dear,” particularizes thus:
So, when my nurse comes in for me,
Home I return across the sea,
And go to bed with backward looks
At my dear land of story-books.
I cannot find anywhere else such in.
timate treatment of this side of child And mamma, when no one's looking,
life. In Lady Lindsay's “String of You should see,
Beads” there is a little poem called "A Only takes one lump of sugar In her tea.
Child's Dream,” which takes us part of
the way, and which, there can be little Now if I were big, Miss Dolly,
doubt, was inspired by Mr. Stevenson's Do you think
book. Indeed he has had many imiI would look at nasty paper,
tators, but none of them have succeeded Pens, and ink?
in capturing anything but the form.
And among other writers of verse, who I would scamper through the greenhouse, preceded him, or have made no conChase the cat,
scious attempts to work on similar lines, And I'd live on sugar-candy.
none impresses and convinces as he, Think of that!
Taking them altogether, the poets
have not shown themselves to be closely It is not given to all children to be in touch with children: the great ones philosophers, but every child makes be
have tried and failed, and left it to lieve, and every child looks bravely into
humbler singers-such as Mary Lambthe future, and indulges in generous
to give us the true note. But these building schemes. For the best make humble singers are few and far bebelieve poems, which would constitute tween, as the editor of the adult volume a large section of the Grown-up's An- will quickly discover. We might cite Mrs. thology, we must go aga to the
Piatt as one example of an author who, “Child's Garden;" there the standard is
with a wide, comprehending love for once more set. Look, for example, at
ch:ldren, has captured in a hundred the "Land of Story Books:"
efforts little of the genius of childhood.
Perhaps in all her poems nothing is so At evening when the lamp is lit,
characteristic and illuminating as the Around the fire my parents sit;
triumphal boast, in “Child's World They sit at home and talk and sing,
Ballads," of the little girl who had And do not play at anything.
Now, with my little gun, I crawl
I put my hand on every chair All in the dark along the wall,
That said “Don't touch," at Holyrood. And follow round the forest track Away behind the sofa back.
Another good example of an author who
wished to produce sympathetic childThere, in the night, where none can spy, poems, but has always broken down, is All in my hunter's camp I lie, And play at books that I have read,
volume, "Aeromancy,” of much the same char. Till it is time to go to bed.
Mr. Bret Harte. The “Miss Edith” Could it be, Bobby, something that I poems are failures, and though he cer- dropded? tainly was visited by inspiration when
And is that why?" he began “On the Landing," the mood
ВовBY. passed before the piece was completed. Two little boys, Bobby, aged three and “Good boys behaves, and so they don't get a half, and Johnny, a year older, are scolded, peeping over the balusters at night Nor drop hot milk on folks as they pass when they ought to be in bed, watching by.” the guests on the floor below. Here are
JOHNNY (piously). the best lines:
“Marbles would bounce on Mr. Jones's ВовBY.
bald head, "Do you know why they've put us in that
But I shan't try.” back room, Up in the attic, close against the sky, To this stage the piece is admirable. And made believe our nursery's a cloak- Then a discordant note is struck. The room?
next remark of B (aged three and a Do you know why?”
half) is to this effect:
"Do you know why Aunt Jane is always “No more I don't, nor why that Sammy's
At you and me because we tells a lie, That ma thinks horrid, 'cause he bunged But she don't slap that man that called my eye,
her darling? Eats an ice-cream down there like any
Do you know why?"
In his desire to make a point the author
transgresses fatally. And in the next "Do you know why nurse says it isn't
stanza the Seventh Commandment is manners
jeopardized, just as in the modern For you and me to ask folks twice for novel, and we throw away the book. pie,
Looking forward is a childish amuseone hits that man with two ment akin to making believe. “When bananas?
I am grown up” is a form of words conDo you know why?"
stantly on the child's tongue:
When I am grown to man's estate “No more I don't, nor why that girl, whose I shall be very proud and great, dress is
And tell the other girls and boys Off of her shoulders, don't catch cold and Not to meddle with my toys.
die, When you and me gets croup when we un- So says the child in Mr. Stevenson's dresses!
book. Elsewhere he descends to parNo more don't I!”
ticulars, and decides that of all profesBOBBY.
sions his choice would be the lamp"Perhaps she ain't as good as you and I is, lighter's. But you must have the And God don't want her up there in the exquisite little poem in full:
sky, And lets her liveto come in just when My tea is nearly ready, and the sun has pie is
left the sky, Perhaps that's why."
'Tis time to take the window to see Leerie
going by; JOHNNY.
For every night at tea-time, and before “Do you know why that man that's got you take your seat, a cropped head,
With lantern and with ladder he comes Rabbed it just now as if he felt a iy?
posting up the street.