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The letter exacted from a child is usually a letter of thanks; somebody has sent him a box of chocolates.  The thanks tend to stiffen a child’s style; but in any case a letter is the occasion of a sudden self-consciousness, newer to a child than his elders know.  They speak prose and know it.  But a young child possesses his words by a different tenure; he is not aware of the spelt and written aspect of the things he says every day; he does not dwell upon the sound of them.  He is so little taken by the kind and character of any word that he catches the first that comes at random.  A little child to whom a peach was first revealed, whispered to his mother, “I like that kind of turnip.”  Compelled to write a letter, the child finds the word of daily life suddenly a stranger.

The fresher the mind the duller the sentence; and the younger the fingers the older, more wrinkled, and more sidling the handwriting.  Dickens, who used his eyes, remarked the contrast.  The hand of a child and his face are full of rounds; but his written O is tottering and haggard.

His phrases are ceremonious without the dignity of ceremony.  The child chatters because he wants his companion to hear; but there is no inspiration in the act of writing to a distant aunt about whom he probably has some grotesque impression because he cannot think of anyone, however vague and forgotten, without a mental image.  As like as not he pictures all his relatives at a distance with their eyes shut.  No boy wants to write familiar things to a forgotten aunt with her eyes shut.  His thoughtless elders require him not only to write to her under these discouragements, but to write to her in an artless and childlike fashion.

The child is unwieldy of thought, besides.  He cannot send the conventional messages but he loses his way among the few pronouns:  “I send them their love,” “They sent me my love,” “I kissed their hand to me.”  If he is stopped and told to get the words right, he has to make a long effort.  His precedent might be cited to excuse every politician who cannot remember whether he began his sentence with “people” in the singular or the plural, and who finishes it otherwise than as he began it.  Points of grammar that are purely points of logic baffle a child completely.  He is as unready in the thought needed for these as he is in the use of his senses.

It is not true — though it is generally said — that a young child’s senses are quick.  This is one of the unverified ideas that commend themselves, one knows not why.  We have had experiments to compare the relative quickness of perception proved by men and women.  The same experiments with children would give curious results, but they can hardly, perhaps, be made, because the children would be not only slow to perceive but slow to announce the perception; so the moment would go by, and the game be lost.  Not even amateur conjuring does so baffle the slow turning of a child’s mind as does a little intricacy of grammar.