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The mind can make substance and people planets of its own.--Byron.

The universe to man is but a projection of his own inner consciousness.-- Kant.

OF all the powers of the mind, imagination is the most picturesque, and, in many respects, the most interesting. Without it the world would be barren. Not merely would there be no pictures, no music, no books, but there would be no houses, no bridges, no ocean greyhounds, no great business enterprises -- nothing, in fact; for everything that man has made has been first conceived in the imagination before it was born into actual being.

We cannot think of a person being without any power of imagination; for that is an impossibility. But many, many people, I am sorry to say, are greatly deficient in imagination; and this lack of imagination alone is enough to render them commonplace, uninteresting, and of little use or significance in the world.

A man or woman may be deficient in imagination and yet be honest, straightforward, hard working, conscientious. But for such a man or such a woman the higher rewards of life are hopelessly unattainable. He or she may make an excellent bookkeeper, but never an accountant; a skillful typist, but never a secretary; a faithful stock- boy, but never a salesman. The accountant, the secretary, the salesman, must have imagination.

Of course when it comes to any actual creative work--painting, sculpture, musical composition, literature--the power of imagination, highly trained, refined, daring, and vivid, is the great essential. The creators of famous masterpieces have, in instances, lacked everything else but this one thing--imagination. Some of the great artists have lived all their lives in misery and want. Some have been ignorant, some have been coarse, some have been immoral, some have been eccentric, some have been almost or quite insane. But one thing all have possessed in common, and that is—a superb imagination.

In no respect, I believe, do men differ so widely as in the power and activity of their faculty of imagination. Hundreds of men and women have walked and sat in the old country churchyard, and no one had observed there anything that was especially interesting or picturesque. But one day there came to the churchyard a man with a fine imagination, a poet. He saw more than mere grass and trees and headstones; and he gave to the world the most perfect poem in the English language. His name was Thomas Gray, and the poem was the famous "Elegy in a Country Churchyard."

Thousands of people had seen an apple fall from a tree to the ground. But one day a man with a great imagination saw that commonplace thing. His imagination seized upon it, and he propounded Newton's theory of the law of gravitation, one of the most important achievements in the whole history of human thought.

Another man sees his mother's teakettle boiling. He observes that the lid is raised by the expanding steam. His great imagination starts from this homely detail; and he gives to the world--the steam engine. Napoleon, poor, obscure, hungry, trudging up and down the streets of Paris in search of employment, dreams of making all Europe one vast empire--his empire. And he all but succeeds.

And so we might go on indefinitely. Enough, perhaps, to repeat that the world's masters have always been possessed of fine and daring imagination, and that, without great powers of imagination, there can be accomplished no great or important work of any nature whatever.

Imagination Easily Cultivated.

Perhaps you feel that your own imagination does not always serve you as well as it should; perhaps you are wishing that it was better--that you could produce in it such improvement as to enable you to create some good and worthy thing in the world. In that case I am glad to be able to tell you that, of all the powers of the mind, none is capable of being so easily, conveniently, and rapidly cultivated as the imagination. And I may remark that, as in the case of other faculties, the means taken to cultivate the imagination will at the same time necessarily train and strengthen the mentality in every other direction.

First of all, it must be understood that the act of imagining, of bringing images before the mind, is not a separate function of the mentality, but that it is closely interwoven with, partly consists of, in fact, several other of the mental faculties. So in developing the power of imagination we must first speak of these other faculties which are really a part of it. If we study an act of imagination, we shall find that first of all we must have some material for our image.

To most people the act of imagination means the creation of something entirely new. They think that the picture created by the painter, the poet, the novelist, is new in every detail. Now, this is a radical error. The artist does not create anything that is entirely new. And this for a very good reason--there is not and never will be anything entirely new. Now, as in the days of Solomon: "There is nothing new under the sun."

You may imagine, for instance, a green horse with purple wings. You say: Surely, that is an entirely new idea. I say: No, it is merely a new combination of four very old and commonplace ideas--a horse, a pair of wings, and the two colors, green and purple. And so in all creations, no matter what they may be --however new they may seem--it is only the combination that is new. The materials combined are old, as old, very often, as human thought itself.

We see, then, that the first raw material for imagination is our percepts--the things we have seen and heard and felt and smelled and tasted. And it seems hardly necessary to state that the better service we have gotten from our senses and perceptions, the more clear and vivid will be our power to bring before the mind images made up of those things. The first task, then, of him who would develop his power of imagination is to educate the senses.

But the imagination requires more than mere perception. The things perceived must be remembered. A thing that we have forgotten--lost out of the conscious mind--cannot be used as material for an act of imagination. And then the things perceived and remembered should have been grouped and associated into clusters; so that when one wishes to imagine a certain picture he will have a vast amount of material in his mind from which to select materials for that picture.

In cultivating the power of imagination, then, we must begin by educating perception, memory, and association; for (and here is my definition of imagination) imagination is merely a combination of perception, memory, and association with initiative, will. This is not at all text-bookish; but it will give you--as the text-books probably would not on such short acquaintance --a clear idea of the process.

Some Practical Exercises.

Let me state right here that you are exercising your imagination all the time during all your waking hours. You imagine thousands of things every day. Everything you do, every person you go to meet, everything you say--these are all in the imagination before they become realities. Your imagination has much exercise, but--it is not the right kind of exercise. The mental pictures are not clear and vivid. How shall you make them so? Demand it of yourself. And this brings me to your first practical exercise.

Get a good, lively novel, something full of action, and as near as possible to the here and the now. Make yourself comfortable and begin to read. When you come to the end of the first paragraph, stop and image before your mind a clear picture of what was expressed or described. Was it a scene? See it, mountains, sea, farmhouse, city residence, cold, warm, rainy, bright. Try to make it as vivid as it would be were you actually gazing on the scene.

That is what the writer of the story did, or you would not be reading it. During the next paragraph the scene is changed; something is added to the picture. See this. Take much time; it is an exercise. Then comes a person, say a man. See him. Is he tall, short, dark, light, prepossessing, repellent? How is he dressed? Force yourself to imagine every detail. And so on, for a chapter.

By this time you will have had enough for once; but if you have acted conscientiously in accordance with my hints, you will feel an understanding, an interest, and a sympathy with that book and its characters that will surprise you. By the time you have read a dozen chapters in this manner you will have proven to yourself in many ways that your imagination--and, in fact, all your mental powers—have markedly improved. Besides, you will know for the first time the real joy of reading. This is the kind of reading Emerson had in mind when he said: "There is the creative reading as well as creative writing."

Another method by which the imaging faculty can be cultivated is the following: Take fifteen or twenty minutes at the end of the day and make a detailed review of its more important occurrences. Take much time; supply every detail; see and hear again everything that was said and done. Examine each episode critically. What mistakes did you make? In what way could you have handled the situation more easily, advantageously, diplomatically?

How would you proceed again under similar circumstances? In this exercise be careful, first, to see-- actually see, clearly and vividly—every event, person, action, detail, of each episode; second, in imagining how you, yourself, and others might have acted, beware of criticizing the actions of other people. Try to feel that whatever went wrong, you, yourself, had you possessed sufficient will, sympathy, delicacy, intelligence, and control might have made it right. Don't try to finish all the events of the day; that would be impossible. When the fifteen or twenty minutes is up, stop. This is the method of Pythagoras, who devoted his entire evening to meditating on the occurrences of the day.

For developing the power of auditory imagination the following methods are useful. Recall to mind the words and melody of some familiar song as rendered by a good singer, and imagine how it sounds. Hear the words; note the quality of the voice and accompaniment. Three or four songs or three or four repetitions of the same song are enough for once.

Call up in your memory one at a time the various sounds of the country and hear them in imagination-- the hum of bees, the sound of the wind, the rustling leaves, the cries of the various birds, the lowing of cattle, and other noises peculiar to the life of the country.

Another exercise of value is the following: Recall some experience of your past which, at the time, made a strong impression upon you. Review it in all its details, slowly and care- fully. Consider its causes, the means whereby it would have been prevented, outside influences which affected it, the consequences of the occurrence upon yourself and others. What influence has it had upon your life since that time? Good? Bad? Why? If good, may the same experience not be realized again? If bad, by what means may it be avoided? This method should be followed with various experiences. As you can easily understand, the exercise develops far more than imagination. It teaches reason, judgment, self-control, and that thoughtful intelligent care of the self which is the happy medium between brutal selfishness and base self-abnegation.

Another helpful exercise is the following: Recall some attractive landscape that you have seen. Paint from memory a picture of it: Suppose it was a running brook in the mountains. Remember the rocks at the shore, the trees with their low hanging branches, the cows that used to stand knee deep in the water at noon. Call to memory the twitter of birds in the foliage, the hoarse cawing of the crows in the not distant pines, the occasional lowing of a cow in the adjoining field. Hear the laughter of the boys as they come for an early evening plunge in the cool still water of the near-by mill pond.

Smell again in imagination the odor of the earth, the trees, the wild flowers, the fresh cut hay in the near-by meadow. Go through it all minutely, resolutely. Don't omit any detail.


Then begin on the creative phase of the imagination. Paint a picture in your mind, first, say a landscape—a view of a high mountain on the right, a great tree on the left, between the two a verdure clad hillside, beyond a lake, above a blue sky, low upon which hangs the setting sun. Add all the details which I have not space to enumerate.

Compose many pictures like this, taking time to put in every little bush and rock and cloud. Unless you make the picture vivid and complete, you will miss the real benefit of the exercise. Every picture ever painted has been thus elaborated in the imagination of the artist before it was objectified upon the canvas.

Next add action to your picture.

Upon the lake is a little sailboat containing a merry party. How many? How do they look? How are they dressed, etc.? Suddenly a squall comes up. The boat capsizes. Another boat puts out from shore and rescues the unfortunates. And so on.

One of the most interesting and valuable of exercises for the imagination is this: You are reading a book of fiction, and have reached, let us say, the end of the third chapter. Now sit down and write out of your own imagination a sequel to the story from the point at which you stopped reading. Who is going to marry whom? How is the villain to be punished? What is to become of the adventuress and so on. Write another sequel at the end of the fourth chapter. At the end of the fifth, the eighth, the tenth chapters do the same thing.

Now in this exercise, while the incidental literary practice is most valuable, the main point is to train the imagination. You should therefore think, imagine more than you write, setting out the rest of the story as you imagine it in brief simple terms and yet extended enough to be clear. Take much time. Better to work out one good, ingenious sequel in five hours than to spend twice that amount of time in doing hurried, blurred and incomplete work.

Lastly make up an entire story. Imagine your hero--if you like, a heroine. Develop your situation, and bring matters to a logical termination. It is best training for the mind (for all the other faculties' as well as for the imagination) not to put the story into writing until it is completed in thought. Some of the most successful story writers follow this method, never committing the story to writing until it has been fully elaborated in the imagination. The best plan is to first block out in the imagination the general plot of the story. Then go over it again and again, elaborating the situations and adding details, until the whole story seems like an occurrence in your own personal experience.

Then write it out, making no special attempt at literary form, but striving only for clearness and exactness of description and detail. You may then make a second copy or even a third, if you like, with every writing trying to gain a more and more clear mental picture of the personages, scenes, and occurrences which make up your story.

A few hours a week devoted to study along lines which I have here sketched, will do wonders, not only in cultivating the power of imagination, but in developing every desirable quality of mind.


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