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Bible Stories Passage

This is a section from the preface of Bible Stories by William Godwin, 1802. It is a rare book. I typed this in from microfiche.
3. These modern improvers have left out of their system that most essential branch of human nature, the imagination. Our youth, according to the most approved recent systems of education, will be excellent geographers, natural historians and mechanics; they will be able to tell you from what part of the globe you receive every article of your furniture; and will explain the process in manufacturing a carpet, converting metals into the utensils of life, and clay into the cups of your tea-table, and the ornaments of your chimney: in a word, they are exactly informed about all those things, which if a man or woman were to live and die without knowing, neither man nor woman would be an atom the worse. Everything is studied and attended to, except those things which open the heart, which insensibly initiate the learner in the relations and generous offices of society, and enable him to put himself in imagination into the place of his neighbour, to feel his feelings, and to wish his wishes.

Imagination is the ground-plot upon which the edifice of a sound morality must be erected. Without imagination we may have a certain cold and arid circle of principles, but we cannot have sentiments: we may learn by rote a catalogue of rules, and repeat our lessons with the exactness of a parrot, or play over our tricks with the docility of a monkey; but we can neither ourselves love, nor be fitted to excite the love of others.

Imagination is the characteristic of man. The dexterities of logic or of mathematical deduction belong rather to a well regulated machine: they do not contain in them the living principle of our nature. It is the heart which most deserves to be cultivated: not the rules which may serve us in the nature of a compass to steer through the difficulties of life; but the pulses which beat with sympathy, and qualify us for the habits of charity, reverence and attachment. The intellectual faculty in the mind of youth is fully entitled to the attention of parents and instructors; but parents and instructors will perform their offices amiss, if they assign the first place to that which is only entitled to the second.

Many arguments can scarcely be necessary to recommend the object of the particular selection which is here submitted to the judgment of parents. The following narrations surpass in interest and simplicity any specimens of narration which can be found in the world. Scenes of pastoral life and patriarchal plainness are the fittest that can be imagined to form the first impressions which are to be made upon the memories of children. There is a style now in fashion, and which more or less infects every book for children which has been written for the last hundred years, stamped with the ultimate refinements of a high civilization, and full of abstract terms and universal propositions. Why should we debauch the taste of our children by presenting this as the first object of their attention and admiration? Why should we confuse their little intellects and vex their little hearts with words and phrases, and paragraphs, and chapters, which they cannot comprehend?

Elliot Temple on June 27, 2011

Messages (1)


Really interesting. Something I used to think about a lot. Less so now. But I'm a story person ultimately, so creativity does matter to me, and the pursuit of things that nourish it.

Miranda D-L at 12:51 PM on September 12, 2011 | #2138 | reply | quote

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