Epic poetry and Tragedy, Comedy also and
and the greater part of the music of the flute and of the
lyre, are all, in general, modes of imitation....
For as their are persons who represent a number of things by colours and drawings, and others vocally, so it is with the arts above mentioned. They all imitate by rhythm, language, harmony, singly or combined.
Even dancing (he goes on)
imitates character, emotion and action,
Now, having touched on mud-pies, let me say a few words upon these aesthetic imitative instincts of acting, dancing, singing before I follow Aristotle into his explanation of the origin of Poetry, which I think we may agree to be the highest subject of our Art of Reading and to hold promise of its highest reward.
Every wise mother sings or croons to her child and dances him on her knee. She does so by sure instinct, long before the small body can respond or his eyes—always blue at first and unfathomably aged—return her any answer. It lulls him into the long spells of sleep so necessary for his first growth. By and by, when he has found his legs, he begins to skip, and even before he has found articulate speech, to croon for himself. Pass a stage, and you find him importing speech, drama, dance, incantation, into his games with his playmates. Watch a cluster of children as they enact “Here we go gathering nuts in May”— eloquent line: it is just what they are doing!—or “Here come three Dukes a-riding,” or “Fetch a pail of water,” or “Sally, Sally Waters”:
Sally, Sally Waters,
Sitting in the sand,
Rise, Sally—rise, Sally,
For a young man.
Suitor presented, accepted [I have noted, by the way, that this game is more popular with girls than with boys]; wedding ceremony hastily performed—so hastily, it were more descriptive to say ’taken for granted’—within the circle; the dancers, who join hands and resume the measure, chanting
Now you are married, we wish you joy—
First a girl and then a boy
—the order, I suspect, dictated by exigencies of rhyme rather than of Eugenics, as Dryden confessed that a rhyme had often helped him to a thought. And yet I don’t know; for the incantation goes on to redress the balance in a way that looks scientific:
Ten years after, son and daughter,
And now, Miss Sally, come out of the water.
The players end by supplying the applause which, in these days of division of labour, is commonly left to the audience.