Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/820

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A child, then, is born into the world—a puny, screaming, reddish creature—a very fragment of humanity. Were we gods, unacquainted, let us say, with the wheel of birth and death, and did we find ourselves for the first time face to face with infancy, we would see in it but little promise. If we found our infant, like Romulus, suckled at the breast of a she-wolf, and had we no more developed human with whom to compare it, our amazement would fast turn into repulsion. The child would appear a helpless parasite, sucking in the outer world and making no return. The picture would not attract, for it would be devoid of that element, dear alike to gods and men, the element of power. But add now another figure. Let it be the picture of mother and child. It is a picture which for many centuries has claimed the adoration of mankind—an adoration shown as well in its art as in its religion. And back of the art and back of the religion there is, I think, a significance still deeper and still more catholic. The second figure has changed our entire attitude. The helplessness no longer repels. It is seen to be a phase and not of the essence. What the one is, the other may become. We love the child for its sweet promise, and, though we may be disappointed a hundred times, the next-comer is the occasion of renewed hope.

Yet the mystery is not dispelled.

By what divine metamorphosis, we should ask, is this crude, rebellious organism transformed into the likeness of the serene and beautiful mother? We could only answer this self-put question if we stopped and watched the unfolding. What the elfin child of our imagination appeared to be doing the human child in reality does. It drinks in the outer world; and it must do so, for upon this depend its life and its growth. Food and air and light must flow to it from their several sources. They are the material of its body and the stuff of its increase. The faculties must exercise themselves upon the many objects of perception. They must transmit to the brain their corresponding sensations. These are the material of thought and the food which nourishes intelligence. Who the alchemist is the subtle inner self which transmutes the seemingly dead elements into a living organism and the accumulated sensations into coherent thought—we do not know. Let us call it the human spirit, the sum of human faculty; or, to be brief, the soul. This is, I think, a legitimate use of the word. But the point I want to emphasize is this, that the soul, whatever it may be, whether the cause of the life process or its result, is no creator. It is a living fabric, woven on the warp and woof of cause and effect. It depends for its growth upon the materials of growth. The spinning must cease when there are no more strands to be woven. And so it comes about that souls differ from one another in magnitude. They are stunted, if the material of