“The Contents of Children’s Minds On Entering School” is a short report summarizing the results of questionnaires that psychologist G. Stanley Hall sent out in September of 1880 to kindergarten teachers in Boston, as well as the returns from similar questionnaires that a colleague of Hall administered in Kansas City. Hall aggregated the answers he received in scientific tables, but also excerpted from the interviews in rambling, Victorian sentences, multiple clauses strung together with semicolons and filling pages at a time, not unlike a child’s train of thought.
The pamphlet is a fascinating document: the mind of the child of the late nineteenth century, transcribed from structured interviews carried out by their new kindergarten teachers, and reported to an ambitious researcher with theories to prove. Seen through layers of scientific interpretation, the children’s thoughts still jump forth, vivid and fresh. Here, Hall describes the natural origins of things, according to children:
Skeins and spools of thread were said to grow on the sheep’s back or on bushes, stockings on trees, butter to come from buttercups, flour to be made of beans, oats to grow on oaks, bread to be swelled yeast, trees to be stuck in the ground by God and to be rootless, meat to be dug from the ground, and potatoes to be picked from the trees.Continue reading » July 29, 2014
“One has to spend so many years in learning how to be happy,” George Eliot lamented in a letter to a friend in 1844. “I am just beginning to make some progress in the science, and I hope to disprove Edward Young’s theory that ‘as soon as we have found the key of life, it opens the gates of death.’” It was spring again in northern Coventry, and the future author of Middlemarch was twenty-four years old. A morbid thought for one so young, but what is youth if not a world of melodrama, strutting and fretting? For the young, all experience is new experience, the action unfolding as a parade of excitement, desire, betrayal, anger, ambition, joy—often all in the same afternoon. Youth affords a clarity of impression, the exactitude of unmitigated feeling, and we later come to recollect with poignancy a carefree summer day spent climbing trees or that kiss behind the swing set as what our youth was all about. Is it lost before we know it, those golden days wasted and spent? Or is it a thing seen only from afar, a convenient classification to cleave what I was from who I am?
If the magic of early life seems only to grow the further it recedes, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any magic to begin with; the alluring green light at the end of Daisy’s distant dock was green up close too. Henry Adams, a descendant of the second and sixth U.S. presidents, wrote in his autobiography, published posthumously in 1918, “Boys are wild animals, rich in the treasures of sense, but the New England boy had a wider range of emotions than boys of more equable climates. He felt his nature crudely, as it was meant.” Adams was a boy of six in 1845, the year those observations characterize: around the time Eliot was worrying over the science of happiness, Adams was living it. “Winter and summer, then, were two hostile lives, and bred two separate natures. Winter was always the effort to live; summer was tropical license.” Such dualities are endemic to childhood, for boys as well as girls, whether in New England or old. Life is extreme; imagination will make it so if circumstance does not.Continue reading » July 15, 2014
The premiere of Le Sacre du Printemps, on May 29, 1913, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, is perhaps the most legendary theatrical event of the twentieth century. During the performance of Le Sacre, or The Rite of Spring, there were fistfights, stampedes, chairs knocked over. A lady took out her hatpin in order to stab the man next to her (who may or may not have been Jean Cocteau). The police had to be called in during intermission in order to take away forty of the audience’s more boisterous members. One of the double bass players in the orchestra reported that “many a gentleman’s shiny top hat or soft fedora was pulled down by an opponent over his eyes and ears, and canes were brandished like menacing implements of combat.” Brawls carried on into the streets and at least one duel was fought the next day.
These accounts, astonishing as they may be, fail to express the riot’s fervor. “Nothing of all that has ever been written about the battle of The Rite conveys a weak impression of that which actually happened,” the French artist Valentine Gross-Hugo would later recall of the evening. “The theater seemed to have been struck by an earthquake. It seemed to shake.”Continue reading » June 17, 2014