Chapter IV My Lord Chief Explorer, Imagination

Living Pictures.––My Lord Chief Explorer, Imagination, deserves a more complete introduction than the by-the-way mention he has had as a colleague of Intellect. He is an amazing personage, with power to produce, as we have seen, a procession of living pictures in every region open to Intellect. Great artists, whether they be poets or painters, builders or musicians, have the power of expressing and showing to the rest of us some part, anyway, of the wonderful visions Imagination has revealed to them. But the reason why we enjoy their pictures, their poems, or their tales, is because Imagination does the same sort of thing for all of us, if in a less degree. We all have pictures and poems made for us on the inner curtains of our minds. Little children try to express their visions in their games: they play at events, and often in a very odd way, because they know so little that they make a jumble of facts, call a cow a hyæna, and expect to meet a lion and a tiger in every bit of spinney.

The Cultivated Imagination.––The more we know, the more ordered and the more rich should Imagination become in us. Have you read Feats on the Fjord? Miss Martineau, who wrote the book, never visited Norway, but no one could describe the life on the fjords more vividly than she has done; that is because her Imagination was at home in distant lands, as no doubt it was also in past ages. Have you thought how Sir Walter Scott must have lived, in Imagination, in the different times and scenes he gives us in his books? No wonder people called him a 'Wizard.' In order to have a richly-stored picture-gallery of the Imagination we must read much, and, as the French say, figure to ourselves, as we go on, that which we read.

Imagination must not make Pictures of Self.––Imagination, minister as it should be to the joy and breadth of life, has, alas! its two besetting Dæmons––Self and Sin. There is no one who does not imagine. You are a Princess with golden hair and blue eyes and a long, long train to your silken robe, and the Prince comes, and after great feats of valour which make the world wonder, he kneels before you and asks you to be his bride:––

      "Little Ellie in her smile
      Chooses––'I will have a lover,
      Riding on a steed of steeds:
      He shall love me without guile,
      And to him I will discover
      The swan's nest among the reeds.'

Or you are Prince Valorous himself, and you subdue the Paynim and conquer many lands, and the King places you at his right hand in war and at the feast. These are pretty dreams, and there is not much harm in them, except that, while one dreams, one forgets to do, and life is made up altogether of doing and not at all of dreaming. It is very nice to dream, when people have been finding fault with us, that we shall do wonderful and beautiful things––nurse the sick and build palaces for the poor and make gardens of delight for the mother or father who finds fault with us––and to think how everybody will admire us for all our beauty and goodness and cleverness especially those people who have laughed at us; to think, too, how kind we shall be to them and what presents we shall make them, and how sorry they will be that they have not always been polite and kind!

I do not think it is lawful to set Imagination to build us pleasure-houses in this way. In the first place, as I said before, while we are dreaming we are letting all our chances of doing slip by us. In the next place, when we have dreamed ourselves into being some high and mighty personage, ever so good and great, we are very easily affronted; and Imagination leaves off his building tasks to throw stones at our friends. Imagination tells us that 'Mother' does not understand us, does not know half what great persons we are; that 'Father' is not kind, that Lucy or Edward is more noticed than we are, that lessons are hateful, that going for a walk is a bother, that seeing people is a nuisance, that any book but a storybook is dull; and, by degrees, other people find us just what we, in our imagination, have pictured them.

Our best friends have to own that we are dull and disagreeable, peevish and resentful; they say there is no pleasing us, they complain that there is no getting us to join in games or to take any interest in plans. They say we do not try to be pleasant with, or helpful to, anybody. The little ones say we are cross, and do not woo us to play with them, and the big ones think us grumpy and let us alone. It is very provoking, because we know that all the time we have beautiful thoughts about what we shall do for every one of them, and the least they can do is to be kind meantime!

How to Exorcise the Dæmon.––But the others are right, and we are wrong. Just ask yourself, who is the chief person in all the pretty pictures you make, in all the plans you form? If you have to confess that you, yourself, are, why, Imagination has just been making pleasure-houses for Self instead of collecting pictures of the great rich world. See about it, in the future, and set this glorious servant to work in his rightful calling. Then you will be a delight to your friends, because you will have much to tell, and will be interested about many things. You will not trouble them or yourself with that peevish, exacting, grudging Self, a tyrant in any home. In fact, you will find so much that is delightful to think about that you will hardly have a moment in which to think about yourself. Turn Self out the moment he intrudes upon any picture of the Imagination. A good plan is to take your Self by the shoulders, look him full in the face and laugh at him for a ridiculous fellow. This is what is called having 'the saving grace of humour,' and people who have it do not make themselves absurd by putting on airs and graces. It is nearly, though not quite, as good when your home people laugh at you and tease you. Learn from their laughing and bear their teasing with good humour.

Living Pictures of Sin.––The second Dæmon of Imagination is Sin. Have you ever heard people say, 'There seems to be quite an epidemic of burglaries' or 'of murders'? They are quite right. There is an epidemic of these things. They are catching in a curious way. People read of a crime in the newspapers, they allow their Imagination to dwell upon all the details; the whole thing becomes a living picture which they cannot get rid of, and the end is that they attempt the same sort of crime themselves. That is why it is unwise for anyone to read newspaper accounts of those sorts of things, for even if you are not tempted to do the wickedness, the horrid picture of it remains, once you have allowed your Imagination to paint it for you.

Unclean Imaginings.––There is one kind of sins that we must be especially careful not to take impressions of; once we do so they will haunt us all our lives. These are sins of uncleanness. If people talk of such sins, do not listen; go away and do something. If you come across the mention of such sins in your reading––of the classics, of poetry, of history––learn, as it were, to shut the eyes of your Imagination, or your thoughts will become defiled. Never knowingly read anything or listen to anything which could suggest unclean imaginations. I once visited a young woman who was dying, a nice, good, married woman, and she told me this awful thing. She said her dying bed was made miserable and she could not say her prayers because horrible imaginations of uncleanness came to her. She said she never had thought of such things; but, I suppose, she must have allowed herself to think such thoughts at some time, perhaps many years before, and had forgotten it: but the evil spirit took this dreadful opportunity to remind her of them. Shun all such talk, all such readings, and all such imaginations, more than you would shun the plague.

Living Pictures of Horrors.––It is not of the nature of sin, but it is very foolish to allow Imagination to make living pictures of horrors, dreadful accidents, falls down precipices, ghosts, and what not. Once make a picture, and there it is, and it may show itself at any moment to torment.

I hear someone whose nature inclines her to such terrors say, 'But how can I help it?' That is really a foolish question about any of the evils we may fall into. Of course we can help them, and to do so is the battle of life. In this particular case the help lies in hurrying away from the thought to think of something else. If such terrors come at night, when you cannot do anything or read anything, you can always think of something else. The last story-book you have read, for instance,––go over the tale in your thoughts.