THE establishments for rearing children, of which there is one in every town, are endowed by the State, but managed by directors elected by the citizens. This is one of the most astonishing institutions of this strange country. I carefully inspected several and found them conducted on the most perfect scientific principles.
Children are received at any age up to two years; after that, only in the event of the parents, actual or by adoption, dying or receiving some appointment incompatible with the proper care of their children. No person will undertake to rear children for whom he is unable or unwilling to sacrifice the time and incur the trouble necessary to bring them up well and fit for making careers for themselves. Parental affection, which might interfere with the future welfare of the child, is sternly repressed from a sense of patriotic duty.
Many to whom I talked on this subject, and on whom I endeavoured to impress our English ideas of the meritoriousness of rearing a large family on very small means, replied that they did not so understand the duties of parents and citizens.
"Before indulging," said one, "our parental affections, a quality of the mind, or of the heart as you would say, which we have in common with many of the inferior animals, we should consider what is best for the state and what is best for the child. Obviously it would be bad for the child to give him a defective education, to neglect the cultivation of his natural talents, and to let him grow up without a due amount of supervision. In like manner it would be bad for the state to have any of its citizens growing up incapable of rightly fulfilling their duties of citizenship. If our means or our engagements do not permit us to educate and train our children properly, it would be a most selfish act, in fact it would be the mere indulgence of a purely brute instinct to retain these children with us, and allow them to grow up uneducated and not properly cared for. In order to gratify that low animal passion you dignify by the name of parental affection, why should we make bad citizens, and rear ungrateful children, who will, with justice, hate us when they discover that their prospects have been blighted in order that their parents' feelings might be spared?"
The reader will understand that I employed all the usual stock arguments to refute this revolting sophistry. I need not repeat what I said, as no British parent requires to be reminded of what is to be urged in defence of that purest and most sacred of the affections, parental love.
But I might as well have spoken to a stone wall. The arrogant conceit of these Colymbians is so great that they are incapable of appreciating the profoundest wisdom if it clashes with the maxims they have accepted. So after a few polite attempts I gave up the idea of inducing them to come round to our rational English notions on many subjects on which they differ toto cœlo from us.
To return to the child-rearing establishments, I went over several of them, and was much struck with the completeness of the means and appliances for bringing up and educating the children. The nursery has an efficient staff of nurses, who administer to the children their natural food, or bring them up by hand in the most careful and tender manner. In the absence of cows or other animals to provide milk, the cocoa-nut trees, that grow in profusion on the land, supply any amount of the most nutritious and digestible milk, on which the infants thrive to perfection.
I learned that the child born under water does not immediately require to breathe as is the case when born in air. During foetal life it is unquestionably an aquatic animal, and if not instantly exposed to the stimulus of air, its foetal aquatic life may be prolonged for a considerable period without injury. Of course it eventually requires that its lungs should be filled with air, in order to carry on its perfect life when separated from its mother, and accordingly it is gradually taught to respire in order to enable it to assume its proper place in the scale of creation, and perform all the functions of an air-breathing animal.
The main difficulty is to get the new-born infant to breathe through the air-tubes, but the ingenuity of the people has overcome this difficulty, and from the first days of its life it can breathe the air by means of a simple and effectual mechanism as well as if it were in the air. Each room has its large air-reservoir, into which the child's head can be readily brought, if there is any difficulty in using the air-tubes; but after a little care the infant soon breathes as comfortably through the tubes as its elders, and never needs to resort to the air-reservoir.
At a very early age the children are arranged into various classes, according to their intellectual capacities, and education suitable to each is carefully given. Those whose mental capacity suits them for it are educated for the higher scientific employments; others are brought up to be skilled artisans; others again, to follow the more mechanical trades; and the lowest capacities of all are trained for the position of unskilled labourers.
These establishments turn out men and women of the highest calibre, philosophers, naturalists, engineers, architects, musicians and artists, as well as skilled and unskilled workmen in every department. Ample employment is given to each as he completes his education; and the pupils of these great educational establishments generally contrast favourably with those who have been brought up at the private houses of their parents and guardians. Far from there being any disgrace or shame attached to the bringing up in the public schools, it is rather the other way, and those reared by private persons are generally thought less of than those who have received the advantages of the state establishments.
For every one who can work there is always employment of some kind or another to be had in Colymbia, and, as the necessaries of life are cheap and wages good, all classes are comfortably off. Crime of every kind is extremely rare, and the punishment for it, banishment to the land for a longer or shorter period, sufficiently severe to have an excellent deterrent effect on any who may feel disposed to commit a felony.
I inquired if there were not many cases of children received at the establishments who were incapable of a subaqueous life, or who, from some inborn defect of constitution or congenital deformity, are incapable of turning out useful members of society. I was informed that such cases did undoubtedly occur, but as infants so afflicted were not worth the trouble of rearing, they were not reared.
"What!" I exclaimed, "do the laws of Colymbia sanction infanticide?"
"Well," replied the resident director of one of these institutions, to whom my question was directed, "if you like to call it so, they do. But in this, as in other respects, the laws are formed on what you would undoubtedly call cold-blooded philosophical principles. They are drawn up and enacted with the sole view of the good of the community. Now it is not good for the community to be burdened with the charge of crippled, blind or deaf members. Every baby is carefully examined on entrance by a committee of learned anatomists and physiologists, and if they find it affected with any malformation, or deformity, or disease, which renders it likely that the child will not be 'viable'—i.e., capable of making its way in life—it is not reared, and thus society is spared a useless member, and a human being spared a wretched life."
"But," I replied, "we find from experience that cripples, blind and deaf people are often extremely useful members of society, and are by no means universally wretched."
"It may be so," he returned with calm indifference, but at all events the integrity of society is impaired by defects in its members. Our legislators have, in their wisdom, determined that the integrity of our society shall be preserved, and so we act in conformity with the law by preserving it."
"Such laws are cruel, heartless"—I commenced, but he interupted me with:—
"Keep yourself calm, my friend; you should remember that the law knows nothing of sentiment; but if sentiment is opposed to the general well-being of society, sentiment must yield, not society. It is true that our pseudo-humanitarians have often attempted to put in a plea for the preservation of the lives of those who would only be a burden on society, and have brought many specious arguments to support their views; but salus populi suprema lex est, and the well-being of the people is even more regarded by our legislators than the maxims of a fanciful morality."
This dreadful justification of the slaughter of the innocents shocked me beyond measure, and I could not restrain my indignation.
"What!" I exclaimed, "do you dare to destroy human souls who have as much right to live as you have?"
"My dear sir," he replied, "your feelings are so excited that you forget the proprieties of language. We allow the bodies of these unviable children to perish, but we make no attack on their souls, if they have any. Our philosophers do not generally countenance the idea of souls in human beings, as they say that all the phenomena of life may be satisfactorily explained without supposing the existence of an immortal essence or spirit as you imagine the soul to be. But granting the presence of a soul in your sense, you cannot contend that the death of the body is attended by that of the soul. And yet we notice that your writers frequently express themselves in a very loose manner on this subject, when they say, for instance, "so many souls perished in such a battle or by such an accident." If these infants have souls as you believe, we do these souls a service by freeing them from the bondage of a deformed or imperfect body, in which they would have fretted and chafed away a few years of miserable existence. But the child, we contend, can only be said to become an individual human being when it acquires consciousness; if not allowed to reach the period of consciousness, it may be said that it has not existed. We merely carry out, in a scientific and merciful manner, the process performed in a clumsy and cruel manner by nature, which your learned men term 'the survival of the fittest.' In England you pursue a diametrically opposite course, for while you make frantic efforts to preserve the lives of your lame, your blind, your deaf, your idiots, and your imbeciles, you allow thousands of sound and perfect children to be annually slaughtered by neglect and starvation, or reared in ignorance and crime, because you insist that parents shall bring up all their children, however numerous and however inadequate their means for doing so. That our system is infinitely more humane than yours you may imagine when I tell you that it is very seldom indeed that any defective or diseased child is born in this country, for the parents are all so well shaped and so healthy that they are most unlikely to produce offspring unlike themselves in these respects. Our system has the same effect as the care you exercise in England has on stock-breeding. The parents are examples of all the good points in the human breed, and their children follow suit or even improve on their parents' qualities. It is a marvel to us how you in England can allow unlimited freedom in marriage, when you have among you so many deformed, defective and diseased people, who are likely to propagate their imperfections and deteriorate the race, or at least prevent it attaining perfection with due rapidity. It would be for your advantage to permit no couple to marry without a thorough examination by competent physiologists to see if the match would be suitable in the point of view of the production of good offspring. We have a still better method here, we quench the evil at its source, and refuse admission into society of any that are likely to deteriorate the race. After that we can safely allow the most unlimited freedom of choice in matrimonial affairs without much risk of producing defective children. And look at our people! Did you ever see more perfect specimens of all that is graceful and healthy in humanity? No deformities, no diseases, no incapacity for work or for fulfilling all the obligations of life; the highest intellectual development in the most perfect physical frames."
"Sir," said I, "were you all Admirable Crichtons, this would not make your arguments other than what they are,—namely, the sheerest sophistry." I then went on to expose the fallacy of his reasoning, and the shallowness of his sophistry; but as my line of argument must be familiar to every reader, I will forbear repeating it here. The director listened to me with courtesy, but I saw that the reasoning which would have had a convincing effect among terrestrials, failed to produce the slightest conviction on this aquatic. I felt annoyed to see my well-turned points and down proofs glance off hie mind like water off a duck's back, and in my petulance I exclaimed:—
"These detestable tenets and practices could only exist among a people destitute of all religion and morality."
"The greatest good of the greatest number—the few must suffer that the many may be happy,—that is our morality," he retorted, "and the same maxims are freely inculcated in England, only you fear to carry them out to their logical consequences,—we don't. We, like you, acknowledge the obligation of the state to supply education to all. Without exhausting our efforts in the thankless task of rearing those who are extremely unlikely to be of service to the state, we place all sound and perfect children in a position to profit by the education we give, so that they may become useful citizens. You leave the children you propose to educate in squalid over-crowded dwellings, with insufficient food and clothing and vicious surroundings, so that, it seems to me, the education you give them will only make them more expert thieves or more crafty beggars."
"You forget," I said, "that the state has wisely ordained that the poison of secular knowledge shall only be administered along with its antidote the Bible, so that there is no fear of the education we give being perverted to vicious purposes."
With these words I hurriedly took my leave, feeling satisfied that I had had the best of the argument, but knowing from my experience of Colymbians that he would never acknowledge his defeat.