In this passage, Napier muses on children and language; a long meditation but an interesting one.
Lying in bed on those long summer evenings, looking at the square of bright blue sky beyond the window, one sometimes felt locked in eternity, as if the light could never dim, and sleep could never come. Thoughts splashed in one's brain; the waterfall words of the day flowed over one. The mystery of what sinks in in infancy and what flows by is profound; a child a baffling mixture of receptivity and inattention. Waves of words, breaking continually over the impressionable sand, leave weed and stick and broken glass and echoing shell, and sweep as much away. Another tide takes some, brings more; how much unaccountably sinks down to become part of the permanent structure of the shore? Nanny words, reading aloud words, caressing mother words, half-hearted snatches of conversation, of poetry, praise, blame, exhortation; why does some float by and some sink in? Wipe your mouth, say your grace, tell the truth, keep your elbows off the table. There are words so immediate and poignant that they could have been said yesterday, and are said for ever. Sir, come down e'er my child die. One swings abruptly from world to world. Don't care was made to care, Don't care was hanged. Take off your hat, William, to Mr and Mrs Dallin. Spare your breath to cool your porridge. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat. This little pig went to market, this little pig stayed at home. Blow bugles, blow, set the wild echoes flying, And answer, echoes, answer, dying, dying, dying. Say please, say yes, say thank you, say sorry, say how do you do? For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory. Once upon a time there were four little rabbits whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter. Fold your vest, and clean your teeth, and say your prayers. Nobly, nobly, Cape St. Vincent to the North West died away; sunset ran, one glorious blood-red, reeking into Cadiz Bay; Love me, kiss me, Hug me tight. Never kiss a lady with your hat on, William! It's no use grumbling, it's no use fussing, it's no use crying over spilled milk.
A mingling of folk-lore, impatience, platitude, affection; a jumble of eternal verity and country precept and temporary slang pours out daily over minds half-hearing, half-differentiating, alternately open as a sieve or retentive as clay. Subtly, day by day, words mould our prejudice, our apprehensions, joys, desires, the unconscious ethic by which we live.
Humpty-Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty-Dumpty had a great fall. That's no way to hold your spoon. Paxus forgetting the bright speed he had In his high mountain cradle of Pamere. For what we have received the Lord make us truly thankful. Say, no thank you, say, Yes please. Don't cough over the table. Say, I beg your pardon. Reiterated words, falling with the persistence of steadily dropping water and channelling their permanent grooves in the sand: shadowy words, scarce heard and less understood, dappling the landscape of the mind with the mysterious charm and rhythm of their sounds. It was no season then for her To wanton with the sun her lusty paramour. Finish your mouthful before you speak. Mind the step, and shame the devil, and shut the door behind you. Never ask a man his income, never ask a woman her age. I saw three ships come sailing by, sailing by, sailing by, I saw eternity the other night Like a great ring of pure and endless night.
A beguilement of words, a tumbling cataract of sounds, and how much of all is absorbed, and why, penetrating the steady self-enchanted dream of life?