On The Art of Reading eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 241 pages of information about On The Art of Reading.

Nos. (2), (3), (4). To act—­our author calls this the ‘dramatic instinct’:  to draw, paint and model—­this the ’artistic instinct’—­to dance and sing—­this the ’musical instinct.’  But obviously all these are what Aristotle would call ‘mimetic’ instincts:  ‘imitative’ (in a sense I shall presently explain); even as No. (2)—­acting—­like No. (1)—­talking and listening—­comes of craving for sympathy.  In fact, as we go on, you will see that these instincts overlap and are not strictly separable, though we separate them just now for convenience.

No. (5). To know the why of things—­the ‘inquisitive instinct.’  This, being the one which gives most trouble to parents, parsons, governesses, conventional schoolmasters—­to all grown-up persons who pretend to know what they don’t and are ashamed to tell what they do—­is of course the most ruthlessly repressed.

  ‘The time is come,’ the Infant said,
  ’To talk of many things: 
  Of babies, storks and cabbages

—­having studied the Evangelists’ Window facing the family pew—­

  And whether cows have wings.’

The answer, in my experience, is invariably stern, and ’in the negative’:  in tolerant moments compromising on ’Wait, like a good boy, and see.’

But we singled out this instinct and discussed it in our last lecture.

No. (6). To construct things—­the ‘constructive instinct.’  I quote Mr Holmes here: 

After analysis comes synthesis.  The child pulls his toys to pieces in order that he may, if possible, reconstruct them.  The ends that he sets before himself are those which Comte Set before the human race—­savoir pour prevoir, afin de pouvoir:  induire pour deduire, afin de construire. The desire to make things, to build things up, to control ways and means, to master the resources of nature, to put his knowledge of her laws and facts to practical use, is strong in his soul.  Give him a box of bricks, and he will spend hours in building and rebuilding houses, churches....  Set him on a sandy shore with a spade and a pail, and he will spend hours in constructing fortified castles with deep encircling moats.

Again obviously this constructive instinct overlaps with the imitative ones.  Construction, for example, enters into the art of making mud-pies and has also been applied in the past to great poetry.  If you don’t keep a sharp eye in directing this instinct, it may conceivably end in an “Othello” or in a “Divina Commedia.”


Without preaching on any of the others, however, I take three of the six instincts scheduled by Mr Holmes—­the three which you will allow to be almost purely imitative.

They are: 

  Drawing, painting, modelling,
  Dancing and singing.

Now let us turn to the very first page of Aristotle’s “Poetics,” and what do we read?

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On The Art of Reading from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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