It might be hastily assumed by a reader bent on critical consideration, that the subject of my essay had a certain levity or fancifulness about it. Works of imagination, as by a curious juxtaposition they are called, are apt to lie under an indefinable suspicion, as including unbusinesslike and romantic fictions, of which the clear-cut and well-balanced mind must beware, except for the sake, perhaps, of the frankest and least serious kind of recreation. Considering the part which the best and noblest works of imagination must always play in a literary education, it has often surprised me to reflect how little scope ordinary literary exercises give for the use of that particular faculty. The old themes and verses aimed at producing decorous centos culled from the works of classical rhetoricians and poets. No boy, at least in my day, was ever encouraged to take a line of his own, and to strike out freely across country in pursuit of imagined adventures. Even English teaching in its earlier stages seldom aimed at more than transcriptions of actual experience, a day spent in the country, or a walk beside the sea. Only quite recently have boys and girls been encouraged to write poems and stories out of their own imaginations; and even now there are plenty of educational critics who would consider such exercises as dilettante things lacking in practical solidity.
But I desire in this essay to go further back into the roots of the subject, and my first position is plainly this; that imagination, pure and simple, is a common enough faculty; not perhaps the creative imagination which can array scenes of life, construct romantic experiences, and embody imaginary characters in dramatic situations, but the much simpler sort of imagination which takes pleasure in recalling past memories, and in forecasting and anticipating interesting events. The boy who, weary of the school-term, considers what he will do on the first day of the holidays, or who anxiously forebodes paternal displeasure, is exercising his imagination; and the truth is that the faculty of imagination plays an immense part in all human happiness and unhappiness, considering that, whenever we take refuge from the present in memories or in anticipations, we are using it. The first point then that I shall consider is whether this restless and influential faculty ought not in any case to be trained, so that it may not either be atrophied or become over-dominant; and the second point will be the further consideration as to whether the faculty of creative imagination is a thing which should be deliberately developed.