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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/426

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

asked his audience if they really thought the children of to-day were young savages, and quoted Emerson and Longfellow as authorities on the question. The Rev. S. Gr. Smith takes up the point and expresses himself as follows: "When it is stated that the child has many points of contact with primitive man, it is not meant that the child is a savage, but that 'in its immaturity' we can learn much respecting it from the study of child races. The child has neither the virtues nor the vices of the savage, but he has many of the mental characteristics. Embryology does not teach that in prenatal life the child passes into the form of every animal in a menagerie, but that its life passes through the stages that mark the great subdivisions of all life. Nor do the comparisons of the child with primitive man imply that he must pass through all the activities of savage races, but that the development of his faculties, the tendencies of his desires, the state of his ignorance, all illustrate the history of the development of the race. Primitive man may be understood by a study of the child, and, conversely, the child may be illustrated by primitive man."

It must be borne in mind that the child is in constant contact with its elders, that it is subject to the restraints which they impose, and that it lives more or less in an atmosphere of affection and care. There is excellent reason, therefore, why it should not resemble primitive man in all points. Its daily life is really controlled and guided by a higher power. In some cases there is even too much control and guidance; the conditions are made too artificial, and the development of the child's nature suffers in consequence. When the age of manhood or womanhood is reached there is something lacking, precisely because enough scope was not left for the primitive or, as we may very properly say, the "savage" instincts of childhood. A great French writer, Joseph de Maistre, quotes a popular saying to the effect that "spoilt children always turn out well."[1] So far as there is any truth in it, the explanation is that the spoilt child is one that has a great deal of its own way, and is left to work out the savage and so acquire a sounder foundation for its future life. In how many of us are there not chained savages that might have made their escape in earlier years if they had only been allowed! It is a dangerous thing to try to make little angels of children.

The Rev. Mr. Smith is quite right in what he says as to the predominance of the imagination in children, this being another strong point of resemblance to primitive man. "The beginnings of history and institutions," he truly says, "can only be understood when we remember that races in their early development do not have clearly marked activities of imagination, reason, and memory. They mix the three. So legends, myths, and heroics are earnest efforts of the undeveloped mind to make objective the truth, and are not clumsy lies at all." Applying this to the child, the conclusion is that "he must be fed through his imagination or he will not grow." A very imaginative child is apt to be accused of falsehood, when he simply fails to distinguish between things imagined and things remembered. Neither the child nor the savage can concentrate his attention, and to force either to do so beyond a certain very limited measure is simply to injure and deform such natural powers as he possesses. The amount of mischief which a dogmatic and over-logical teacher, wholly ignorant of the psychology of the child, can do is beyond all calculation.


  1. "Les enfans gâtés réussissent toujours."