Books and men/Children, Past and Present
CHILDREN, PAST AND PRESENT.
As a result of the modern tendency to desert the broad beaten roads of history for the bridle-paths of biography and memoir, we find a great many side lights thrown upon matters that the historian was wont to treat as altogether beneath his consideration. It is by their help that we study the minute changes of social life that little by little alter the whole aspect of a people, and it is by their help that we look straight into the ordinary every-day workings of the past, and measure the space between its existence and our own. When we read, for instance, of Lady Cathcart being kept a close prisoner by her husband for over twenty years, we look with some complacency on the roving wives of the nineteenth century. When we reflect on the dismal fate of Uriel Freudenberger, condemned by the Canton of Uri to be burnt alive in 1760, for rashly proclaiming his disbelief in the legend of William Tell's apple, we realize the inconveniences attendant on a too early development of the critical faculty. We listen entranced while the learned pastor Dr. Johann Geiler von Keyersperg gravely enlightens his congregation as to the nature and properties of were-wolves; and we turn aside to see the half-starved boys at Westminster boiling their own batter-pudding in a stocking foot, or to hear the little John Wesley crying softly when he is whipped, not being permitted even then the luxury of a hearty bellow.
Perhaps the last incident will strike us as the most pathetic of all, this being essentially the children's age. Women, workmen, and skeptics all have reason enough to be grateful they were not born a few generations earlier; but the children of to-day are favored beyond their knowledge, and certainly far beyond their deserts. Compare the modern schoolboy with any of his ill-fated predecessors, from the days of Spartan discipline down to our grandfathers' time. Turn from the free-and-easy school-girl of the period to the miseries of Mrs. Sherwood's youth, with its steel collars, its backboards, its submissive silence and rigorous decorum. Think of the turbulent and uproarious nurseries we all know, and then go back in spirit to that severe and occult shrine where Mrs. Wesley ruled over her infant brood with a code of disciplinary laws as awful and inviolable as those of the Medes and Persians. Of their supreme efficacy she plainly felt no doubts, for she has left them carefully written down for the benefit of succeeding generations, though we fear that few mothers of to-day would be tempted by their stringent austerity. They are to modern nursery rules what the Blue Laws of Connecticut are to our more languid legislation. Each child was expected and required to commemorate its fifth birthday by learning the entire alphabet by heart. To insure this all-important matter, the whole house was impressively set in order the day before; every one's task was assigned to him; and Mrs. Wesley, issuing strict commands that no one should penetrate into the sanctuary while the solemn ordeal was in process, shut herself up for six hours with the unhappy morsel of a child, and unflinchingly drove the letters into its bewildered brain. On two occasions only was she unsuccessful. "Molly and Nancy," we are told, failed to learn in the given time, and their mother comforts herself for their tardiness by reflecting on the still greater incapacity of other people's bairns.
"When the will of a child is totally subdued, and it is brought to revere and stand in awe of its parents," then, and then only, their rigid judge considers that some little inadvertences and follies may be safely passed over. Nor would she permit one of them to "be chid or beaten twice for the same fault,"—a stately assumption of justice that speaks volumes for the iron-bound code by which they were brought into subjection. Most children nowadays are sufficiently amazed if a tardy vengeance overtake them once, and a second penalty for the same offense is something we should hardly deem it necessary to proscribe. Yet nothing is more evident than that Mrs. Wesley was neither a cruel nor an unloving mother. It is plain that she labored hard for her little flock, and had their welfare and happiness greatly at heart. In after years they with one accord honored and revered her memory. Only it is not altogether surprising that her husband, whose ministerial functions she occasionally usurped, should have thought his wife at times almost too able a ruler, or that her more famous son should stand forth as the great champion of human depravity. He too, some forty years later, promulgated a system of education as unrelaxing in its methods as that of his own childhood. In his model school he forbade all association with outside boys, and would receive no child unless its parents promised not to take it away for even a single day, until removed for good. Yet after shutting up the lads in this hot-bed of propriety, and carefully guarding them from every breath of evil, he ended by expelling part as incorrigible, and ruefully admitting that the remainder were very "uncommonly wicked."
The principle of solitary training for a child, in order to shield it effectually from all outside influences, found other and vastly different advocates. It is the key-note of Mr. and Miss Edgeworth's Practical Education, a book which must have driven over-careful and scrupulous mothers to the verge of desperation. In it they are solemnly counseled never to permit their children to walk or talk with servants, never to let them have a nursery or a school-room, never to leave them alone either with each other or with strangers, and never to allow them to read any book of which every sentence has not been previously examined. In the matter of books, it is indeed almost impossible to satisfy such searching critics. Even Mrs. Barbauld's highly correct and righteous little volumes, which Lamb has anathematized as the "blights and blasts of all that is human," are not quite harmless in their eyes. Evil lurks behind the phrase "Charles wants his dinner," which would seem to imply that Charles must have whatever he desires; while to say flippantly, "The sun has gone to bed," is to incur the awful odium of telling a child a deliberate untruth.
In Miss Edgeworth's own stories the didactic purpose is only veiled by the sprightliness of the narrative and the air of amusing reality she never fails to impart. Who that has ever read them can forget Harry and Lucy making up their own little beds in the morning, and knocking down the unbaked bricks to prove that they were soft; or Rosamond choosing between the famous purple jar and a pair of new boots; or Laura forever drawing the furniture in perspective? In all these little people say and do there is conveyed to the young reader a distinct moral lesson, which we are by no means inclined to reject, when we turn to the other writers of the time and see how much worse off we are. Day, in Sandford and Merton, holds up for our edification the dreariest and most insufferable of pedagogues, and advocates a mode of life wholly at variance with the instincts and habits of his age. Miss Sewell, in her Principles of Education, sternly warns young girls against the sin of chattering with each other, and forbids mothers' playing with their children as a piece of frivolity which cannot fail to weaken the dignity of their position.
To a great many parents, both in England and in France, such advice would have been unnecessary. Who, for instance, can imagine Lady Balcarras, with whom it was a word and a blow in quick succession, stooping to any such weakness; or that august mother of Harriet Martineau, against whom her daughter has recorded all the slights and severities of her youth? Not that we think Miss Martineau to have been much worse off than other children of her day; but as she has chosen with signal ill-taste to revenge herself upon her family in her autobiography, we have at least a better opportunity of knowing all about it. "To one person," she writes, "I was indeed habitually untruthful, from fear. To my mother I would in my childhood assert or deny anything that would bring me through most easily,"—a confession which, to say the least, reflects as little to her own credit as to her parent's. Had Mrs. Martineau been as stern an upholder of the truth as was Mrs. Wesley, her daughter would have ventured upon very few fabrications in her presence. When she tells us gravely how often she meditated suicide in these early days, we are fain to smile at hearing a fancy so common among morbid and imaginative children narrated soberly in middle life, as though it were a unique and horrible experience. No one endowed by nature with so copious a fund of self-sympathy could ever have stood in need of much pity from the outside world.
But for real and uncompromising severity towards children we must turn to France, where for years the traditions of decorum and discipline were handed down in noble families, and generations of boys and girls suffered grievously therefrom. Trifling faults were magnified into grave delinquencies, and relentlessly punished as such. We sometimes wonder whether the youthful Bertrand du Gueselin were really the wicked little savage that the old chroniclers delight in painting, or whether his rude truculence was not very much like that of naughty and neglected boys the world over. There is, after all, a pathetic significance in those lines of Cuvelier's which describe in barbarous French the lad's remarkable and unprepossessing ugliness:—
"Il n'ot si lait de Resnes à Disnant,
Camus estoit et noirs, malostru et massant.
Li père et la mère si le héoiant tant,
Que souvent en leurs cuers aloient desirant
Que fust mors, ou noiey en une eaue corant."
Perhaps, if he had been less flat-nosed and swarthy, his better qualities might have shone forth more clearly in early life, and it would not have needed the predictions of a magician or the keen-eyed sympathy of a nun to evolve the future Constable of France out of such apparently hopeless material. At any rate, tradition generally representing him either as languishing in the castle dungeon, or exiled to the society of the domestics, it is plain he bore but slight resemblance to the cherished enfant terrible who is his legitimate successor to-day.
Coming down to more modern times, we are met by such monuments of stately severity as Madame Quinet and the Marquise de Montmirail, mother of that fair saint Madame de Rochefoucauld, the trials of whose later years were ushered in by a childhood of unremitting harshness and restraint. The marquise was incapable of any faltering or weakness where discipline was concerned. If carrots were repulsive to her little daughter's stomach, then a day spent in seclusion, with a plate of the obnoxious vegetable before her, was the surest method of proving that carrots were nevertheless to be eaten. When Augustine and her sister kissed their mother's hand each morning, and prepared to con their tasks in her awful presence, they well knew that not the smallest dereliction would be passed over by that inexorable judge. Nor might they aspire, like Harriet Martineau, to shield themselves behind the barrier of a lie. When from Augustine's little lips came faltering some childish evasion, the ten-year-old sinner was hurried as an outcast from her home, and sent to expiate her crime with six months' merciful seclusion in a convent. "You have told me a falsehood, mademoiselle," said the marquise, with frigid accuracy; "and you must prepare to leave my house upon the spot."
Faults of breeding were quite as offensive to this grande dame as faults of temper. The fear of her pitiless glance filled her daughters with timidity, and bred in them a mauvaise honte, which in its turn aroused her deadliest ire. Only a week before her wedding-day Madame de Rochefoucauld was sent ignominiously to dine at a side table, as a penance for the awkwardness of her curtsy; while even her fast growing beauty became but a fresh source of misfortune. The dressing of her magnificent hair occupied two long hours every day, and she retained all her life a most distinct and painful recollection of her sufferings at the hands of her coiffeuse.
To turn from the Marquis de Montmirail to Madame Quinet is to see the picture intensified. More beautiful, more stately, more unswerving still, her faith in discipline was unbounded, and her practice in no wise inconsistent with her belief. It was actually one of the institutions of her married life that a garde de ville should pay a domiciliary visit twice a week to chastise the three children. If by chance they had not been naughty, then the punishment might be referred to the acount of future transgressions,—an arrangement which, while it insured justice to the culprits, can hardly have afforded them much encouragement to amend. Her son Jerome, who ran away when a mere boy to enroll with the volunteers of '92, reproduced in later years, for the benefit of his own household, many of his mother's most stinking characteristics. He was the father of Edgar Quinet, the poet, a child whose precocious abilities seem never to have awakened within him either parental affection or parental pride. Silent, austere, repellent, he offered no caresses, and was obeyed with timid submission. "The gaze of his large blue eyes," says Dowden, "imposed restraint with silent authority. His mockery, the play of an intellect unsympathetic by resolve and upon principle, was freezing to a child; and the most distinct consciousness which his presence produced upon the boy was the assurance that he, Edgar, was infallibly about to do something which would cause displeasure." That this was a common attitude with parents in the old régime may be inferred from Châteaubriand's statement that he and his sister, transformed into statues by their father's presence, recovered their life only when he left the room; and by the assertion of Mirabeau that even while at school, two hundred leagues away from his father, "the mere thought of him made me dread every youthful amusement which could be followed by the slightest unfavorable result."
Yet at the present day we are assured by Mr. Marshall that in France "the art of spoiling has reached a development which is unknown elsewhere, and maternal affection not infrequently descends to folly and imbecility." But then the clever critic of French Home Life had never visited America when he wrote those lines, although some of the stories he tells would do credit to any household in our land. There is one quite delightful account of a young married couple, who, being invited to a dinner party of twenty people, failed to make their appearance until ten o'clock, when they explained urbanely that their three-year-old daughter would not permit them to depart. Moreover, being a child of great character and discrimination, she had insisted on their undressing and going to bed; to which reasonable request they had rendered a prompt compliance, rather than see her cry. "It would have been monstrous," said the fond mother, "to cause her pain simply for our pleasure; so I begged Henri to cease his efforts to persuade her, and we took off our clothes and went to bed. As soon as she was asleep we got up again, redressed, and here we are with a thousand apologies for being so late."
This sounds half incredible; but there is a touch of nature in the mother's happy indifference to the comfort of her friends, as compared with the whims of her offspring, that closely appeals to certain past experiences of our own. It is all very well for an Englishman to stare aghast at such a reversal of the laws of nature; we Americans, who have suffered and held our peace, can afford to smile with some complacency at the thought of another great nation bending its head beneath the iron yoke.
To return, however, to the days when children were the ruled, and not the rulers, we find ourselves face to face with the great question of education. How smooth and easy are the paths of learning made now for the little feet that tread them! How rough and steep they were in bygone times, watered with many tears, and not without a line of victims, whose weak strength failed them in the upward struggle! We cannot go back to any period when school life was not fraught with miseries. Classic writers paint in grim colors the harshness of the pedagogues who ruled in Greece and Rome. Mediæval authors tell us more than enough of the passionless severity that swayed the monastic schools,—a severity which seems to have been the result of an hereditary tradition rather than of individual caprice, and which seldom interfered with the mutual affection that existed between master and scholar. When St. Anselm, the future disciple of Lanfranc, and his successor in the See of Canterbury, begged as a child of four to be sent to school, his mother, Ermenberg,—the granddaughter of a king, and the kinswoman of every crowned prince in Christendom,—resisted his entreaties as long as she dared, knowing too well the sufferings in store for him. A few years later she was forced to yield, and these same sufferings very nearly cost her son his life.
The boy was both studious and docile, and his teacher, fully recognizing his precocious talents, determined to force them to the utmost. In order that so active a mind should not for a moment be permitted to relax its tension, he kept the little scholar a ceaseless prisoner at his desk. Rest and recreation were alike denied him, while the utmost rigors of a discipline, of which we can form no adequate conception, wrung from the child's overworked brain an unflinching attention to his tasks. As a result of this cruel folly, "the brightest star of the eleventh century had been well-nigh quenched in its rising." Mind and body alike yielded beneath the strain; and Anselm, a broken-down little wreck, was returned to his mother's hands, to be slowly nursed back to health and reason. "Ah, me! I have lost my child!" sighed Ermenberg, when she found that not all that he had suffered could shake the boy's determination to return; and the mother of Guibert de Nogent must have echoed the sentiment when her little son, his back purple with stripes, looked her in the face, and answered steadily to her lamentations, "If I die of my whippings, I still mean to be whipped."
The step from the monastic schools to Eton and Westminster is a long one, but the gain not so apparent at first sight as might be supposed. It is hard for the luxurious Etonian of to-day to realize that for many years his predecessors suffered enough from cold, hunger, and barbarous ill-treatment to make life a burden on their hands. The system, while it hardened some into the desired manliness, must have killed many whose feebler constitutions could ill support its rigor. Even as late as 1834, we are told by one who had ample opportunity to study the subject carefully that "the inmates of a workhouse or a jail were better fed and lodged than were the scholars of Eton. Boys whose parents could not pay for a private room underwent privations that might have broken down a cabin-boy, and would be thought inhuman if inflicted on a galley-slave." Nor is this sentiment as exaggerated as it sounds. To get up at five on freezing winter mornings; to sweep their own floors and make their own beds; to go two by two to the "children's pump" for a scanty wash; to eat no mouthful of food until nine o'clock; to live on an endless round of mutton, potatoes, and beer, none of them too plentiful or too good; to sleep in a dismal cell without chair or table; to improvise a candlestick out of paper; to be starved, frozen, and flogged,—such was the daily life of the scions of England's noblest families, of lads tenderly nurtured and sent from princely homes to win their Greek and Latin at this fearful cost.
Moreover, the picture of one public school is in all essential particulars the picture of the rest. The miseries might vary somewhat, but their bulk remained the same. At Westminster the younger boys, hard pushed by hunger, gladly received the broken victuals left from the table of the senior election, and tried to supplement their scanty fare with strange and mysterious concoctions, whose unsavory details have been handed down among the melancholy traditions of the past.
In 1847 a young brother of Lord Mansfield being very ill at school, his mother came to visit him. There was but one chair in the room, upon which the poor invalid was reclining; but his companion, seeing the dilemma, immediately arose, and with true boyish politeness offered Lady Mansfield the coal scuttle, on which he himself had been sitting. At Winchester, Sydney Smith suffered "many years of misery and starvation," while his younger brother, Courtenay, twice ran away, in the vain effort to escape his wretchedness. "There was never enough provided of even the coarsest food for the whole school," writes Lady Holland; "and the little boys were of course left to fare as well as they could. Even in his old age my father used to shudder at the recollections of Winchester, and I have heard him speak with horror of the misery of the years he spent there. The whole system, he affirmed, was one of abuse, neglect, and vice."
In the matter of discipline there was no shadow of choice anywhere. Capricious cruelty ruled under every scholastic roof. On the one side, we encounter Dean Colet, of St. Paul's, whom Erasmus reported as "delighting in children in a Christian spirit;" which meant that he never wearied of seeing them suffer, believing that the more they endured as boys, the more worthy they would grow in manhood. On the other, we are confronted by the still more awful ghost of Dr. Keate, who could and did flog eighty boys in succession without a pause; and who, being given the confirmation list by mistake for the punishment list, insisted on flogging every one of the catechumens, as a good preparation for receiving the sacrament. Sir Francis Doyle, almost the only apologist who has so far ventured to appear in behalf of this fiery little despot, once remarked to Lord Blachford that Keate did not much mind a boy's lying to him. "What he hated was a monotony of excuses." "Mind your lying to him!" retorted Lord Blachford, with a keen recollection of his own juvenile experiences; 'why he exacted it as a token of respect."
If, sick of the brutality of the schools, we seek those rare cases in which a home education was substituted, we are generally rewarded by finding the comforts greater and the cramming worse. It is simply impossible for a pedagogue to try and wring from a hundred brains the excess of work which may, under clever treatment, be extracted from one; and so the Eton boys, with all their manifold miseries, were at least spared the peculiar experiments which were too often tried upon solitary scholars. Nowadays anxious parents and guardians seem to labor under an ill-founded apprehension that their children are going to hurt themselves by over-application to their books, and we hear a great deal about the expedience of restraining this inordinate zeal. But a few generations back such comfortable theories had yet to be evolved, and the plain duty of a teacher was to goad the student on to every effort in his power.
Perhaps the two most striking instances of home training that have been given to the world are those of John Stuart Mill and Giacomo Leopardi; the principal difference being that, while the English boy was crammed scientifically by his father, the Italian poet was permitted to relentlessly cram himself. In both cases we see the same melancholy, blighted childhood; the same cold indifference to the mother, as to one who had no part or parcel in their lives; the same joyless routine of labor; the same unboyish gravity and precocious intelligence. Mill studied Greek at three, Latin at eight, the Organon at eleven, and Adam Smith at thirteen. Leopardi at ten was well acquainted with most Latin authors, and undertook alone and unaided the study of Greek, perfecting himself in that language before he was fourteen. Mill's sole recreation was to walk with his father, narrating to him the substance of his last day's reading. Leopardi, being forbidden to go about Recanati without his tutor, acquiesced with pathetic resignation, and ceased to wander outside the garden gates. Mill had all boyish enthusiasm and healthy partisanship crushed out of him by his father's pitiless logic. Leopardi's love for his country burned like a smothered flame, and added one more to the pangs that eat out his soul in silence. His was truly a wonderful intellect; and whereas the English lad was merely forced by training into a precocity foreign to his nature, and which, according to Mr. Bain, failed to produce any great show of juvenile scholarship, the Italian boy fed on books with a resistless and craving appetite, his mind growing warped and morbid as his enfeebled body sank more and more under the unwholesome strain. In the long lists of despotically reared children there is no sadder sight than this undisciplined, eager, impetuous soul, burdened alike with physical and moral weakness, meeting tyrannical authority with a show of insincere submission, and laying up in his lonely infancy the seeds of a sorrow which was to find expression in the key-note of his work, Life is Only Fit to be Despised.
Between the severe mental training of boys and the education thought fit and proper for girls, there was throughout the eighteenth century a broad and purposeless chasm. Before that time, and after it, too, the majority of women were happily ignorant of many subjects which every school-girl of to-day aspires to handle; but during the reigns of Queen Anne and the first three Georges, this ignorance was considered an essential charm of their sex, and was displayed with a pretty ostentation that sufficiently proves its value. Such striking exceptions as Madame de Staël, Mrs. Montagu, and Anne Damer were not wanting to give points of light to the picture; but they hardly represent the real womanhood of their time. Femininity was then based upon shallowness, and girls were solemnly warned not to try and ape the acquirements of men, but to keep themselves rigorously within their own ascertained limits. We find a famous school-teacher, under whose fostering care many a court belle was trained for social triumphs, laying down the law on this subject with no uncertain hand, and definitely placing women in their proper station. "Had a third order been necessary," she writes naively, "doubtless one would have been created, a midway kind of being." In default, however, of this recognized via media, she deprecates all impious attempts to bridge over the chasm between the two sexes; and "accounts it a misfortune for a female to be learned, a genius, or in any way a prodigy, as it removes her from her natural sphere.
"Those were days," says a writer in Blackwood, "when superficial teaching was thought the proper teaching for girls; when every science had its feminine language, as Hindu ladies talk with a difference and with softer terminations than their lords: as The Young Ladies' Geography, which is to be read instead of novels; A Young Ladies' Guide to Astronomy; The Use of the Globes for Girls' Schools; and the Ladies' Polite Letter-Writer." What was really necessary for a girl was to learn how to knit, to dance, to curtsy, and to carve; the last-named accomplishment being one of her exclusive privileges. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu received lessons from a professional carving-master, who taught her the art scientifically; and during her father's grand dinners her labors were often so exhausting that translating the Enchiridion must have seemed by comparison a light and easy task. Indeed, after that brilliant baby entrance into the Kitcat Club, very little that was pleasant fell to Lady Mary's share; and years later she recalls the dreary memories of her youth in a letter written to her sister, Lady Mar. "Don't you remember," she asks, pathetically, "how miserable we were in the little parlor at Thoresby?"
Her own education she always protested was of the worst and flimsiest character, and her girlish scorn at the restraints that cramped and fettered her is expressed vigorously enough in the well-known letter to Bishop Burnet. It was considered almost criminal, she complains, to improve her reason, or even to fancy she had any. To be learned was to be held up to universal ridicule, and the only line of conduct open to her was to play the fool in concert with other women of quality, "whose birth and leisure merely serve to make them the most useless and worthless part of creation." Yet viewed alongside of her contemporaries, Lady Mary's advantages were really quite unusual. She had some little guidance in her studies, with no particular opposition to overcome, and tolerance was as much at any time as a thoughtful girl could hope for. Nearly a century later we find little Mary Fairfax—afterwards Mrs. Somerville, and the most learned woman in England—being taught how to sew, to read her Bible, and to learn the Shorter Catechism; all else being considered superfluous for a female. Moreover, the child's early application to her books was regarded with great disfavor by her relatives, who plainly thought that no good was likely to come of it. "I wonder," said her rigid aunt to Lady Fairfax, "that you let Mary waste her time in reading!"
"You cannot hammer a girl into anything," says Ruskin, who has constituted himself both champion and mentor of the sex; and perhaps this was the reason that so many of these rigorously drilled and kept-down girls blossomed perversely into brilliant and scholarly women. Nevertheless, it is comforting to turn back for a moment, and see what Holland, in the seventeenth century, could do for her clever children. Mr. Gosse has shown us a charming picture of the three daughters of Roemer Visscher, the poetess Tesselschade and her less famous sisters,—three little girls, whose healthy mental and physical training was happily free from either narrow contraction or hot-house pressure. "All of them," writes Ernestus Brink, "were practiced in very sweet accomplishments. They could play music, paint, write, and engrave on glass, make poems, cut emblems, embroider all manner of fabrics, and swim well; which last thing they had learned in their father's garden, where there was a canal with water, outside the city." What wonder that these little maidens, with skilled fingers, and clear heads, and vigorous bodies, grew into three keen-witted and charming women, around whom we find grouped that rich array of talent which suddenly raised Holland to a unique literary distinction! What wonder that their influence, alike refining and strengthening, was felt on every hand, and was repaid with universal gratitude and love!
There is a story told of Professor Wilson, that one day, listening to a lecture on education by Dr. Whately, he grew manifestly impatient at the rules laid down, and finally slipped out of the room, exclaiming irately to a friend who followed him, "I always thought God Almighty made man, but he says it was the schoolmaster."
In like manner many of us have wondered from time to time whether children are made of such ductile material, and can be as readily moulded to our wishes, as educators would have us believe. If it be true that nature counts for nothing and training for everything, then what a gap between the boys and girls of two hundred years ago and the boys and girls we know to-day! The rigid bands that once bound the young to decorum have dwindled to a silver thread that snaps under every restive movement. To have "perfectly natural" children seems to be the outspoken ambition of parents, who have succeeded in retrograding their offspring from artificial civilization to that pure and wholesome savagery which is too plainly their ideal. "It is assumed nowadays," declares an angry critic, "that children have come into the world to make a noise; and it is the part of every good parent to put up with it, and to make all household arrangements with a view to their sole pleasure and convenience."
That the children brought up under this relaxed discipline acquire certain merits and charms of their own is an easily acknowledged fact. We are not now alluding to those spoiled and over-indulged little people who are the recognized scourges of humanity, but merely to the boys and girls who have been allowed from infancy that large degree of freedom which is deemed expedient for enlightened nurseries, and who regulate their own conduct on the vast majority of occasions. They are as a rule light-hearted, truthful, affectionate, and occasionally amusing; but it cannot be denied that they lack that nicety of breeding which was at one time the distinguishing mark of children of the upper classes, and which was in a great measure born of the restraints that surrounded them. The faculty of sitting still without fidgeting, of walking without rushing, and of speaking without screaming can be acquired only under tuition; but it is worth some little trouble to attain. When Sydney Smith remarked that the children of rank were generally so much better bred than the children of the middle classes, he recognized the greater need for self-restraint that entered into their lives. They may have been less natural, perhaps, but they were infinitely more pleasing to his fastidious eyes; and the unconscious grace which he admired was merely the reflection of the universal courtesy that surrounded them. Nor is this all. "The necessity of self-repression," says a recent writer in Blackwood, "makes room for thought, which those children miss who have no formalities to observe, no customs to respect, who blurt out every irrelevance, who interpose at will with question and opinion as it enters the brain. Children don't learn to talk by chattering to one another, and saying what comes uppermost. Mere listening with intelligence involves an exercise of mental speech, and observant silence opens the pores of the mind as impatient demands for explanation never do."
This is true, inasmuch as it is not the child who is encouraged to talk continually who in the end learns how to arrange and express his ideas. Nor does the fretful desire to be told at once what everything means imply the active mind which parents so fondly suppose; but rather a languid percipience, unable to decipher the simplest causes for itself. Yet where shall we turn to look for the "observant silence," so highly recommended? The young people who observed and were silent have passed away,—little John Ruskin being assuredly the last of the species,—and their places are filled by those to whom observation and silence are alike unknown. This is the children's age, and all things are subservient to their wishes. Masses of juvenile literature are published annually for their amusement; conversation is reduced steadily to their level while they are present; meals are arranged to suit their hours, and the dishes thereof to suit their palates; studies are made simpler and toys more elaborate with each succeeding year. The hardships they once suffered are now happily ended, the decorum once exacted is fading rapidly away. We accept the situation with philosophy, and only now and then, under the pressure of some new development, are startled into asking ourselves where it is likely to end.
- Life of St. Anselm, Bishop of Canterbury. By Martin Rule