Popular Science Monthly/Volume 47/September 1895/Studies of Childhood X
|STUDIES OF CHILDHOOD.|
X.—MATERIAL OF MORALITY.
GROTE PROFESSOR OF THE PHILOSOPHY OF MIND AND LOGIC AT THE UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, LONDON.
PERHAPS there has been more hasty theorizing about the child's moral characteristics than about any other of his attributes. The very fact that diametrically opposed views have been put forward is suggestive of this haste. By certain theologians and others, infancy has been painted in the blackest of moral colors. According to M. Compayré, it is a bachelor, La Bruyère, and a bishop, Dupanloup, who have said the worst things of children; and the parent or teacher who wants to see how bad this worst is may consult M. Compayré's account. On the other hand, Rousseau and those who think with him have invested the child with moral purity. According to Rousseau, the child comes from the Creator's hand a perfect bit of workmanship, which blundering man at once begins to mar. Children's freedom from human vices has been a common theme of the poet: their innocence was likened by M. About to the spotless snow of the Jungfrau. Others, as Wordsworth, have gone further and attributed to the child positive moral excellences, glimpses of a higher morality than ours, divine intuitions brought from a loftier prenatal existence.
Such opposite views of the moral status and worth of a child must spring not out of careful observation, but out of prepossession, and the magnifying of the accidents of individual experience. A theologian who is concerned to maintain the doctrine of natural depravity, or a bachelor who happens to have known children chiefly in the character of little tormentors, may be expected to paint childhood with black pigments. On the other hand, the poet attracted by the charm of infancy may easily be led to idealize its moral aspects.
The first thing that strikes one in all such attempts to fix the moral worth of the child is that they are judging of things by wrong standards. The infant, though it has a nature capable of becoming moral or immoral, is not as yet a moral being; and there is a certain impertinence in trying to force it under our categories of good and bad, pure and corrupt.
If, then, we would know what the child's "moral" nature is like, we must be careful to distinguish. By "moral" we must understand that part of its nature, feelings, and impulses which have for us a moral significance; whether as furnishing raw material out of which education may develop virtuous dispositions, or, contrariwise, as constituting forces adverse to this development. It may be well to call the former tendencies favorable to virtue, pro-moral, the latter unfavorable tendencies, contra-moral. Our inquiry, then, must be: In what respects and to what extent does the child show itself by nature apart from all that is meant by education, pro-moral or contra-moral—that is, well or ill fitted to become a member of a good or virtuous community, and to exercise what we know as moral functions?
Our especial object here will be, if possible, to get at natural dispositions, to examine the child in his primitive nakedness, looking out for those instinctive tendencies which, according to modern science, are hardly less clearly marked in a child than in a puppy or a chick.
Now, there is clearly a difficulty here. How, it may be asked, can we expect to find in a child any traits having a moral significance which have not been developed by social influences and education? In the case of pro-moral dispositions more particularly, as kindness or truthfuluess, we can not expect to get rid of that molding effect of the combined personal influence and instruction of the mother which is of the essence of all moral training. And even with regard to contra-moral traits, as rudeness or lying, it is evident that example is frequently a co-operating influence.
The difficulty is, no doubt, a real one, and can not be wholly got rid of. We can not completely eliminate the influence of the common life in which the good and bad disposition alike may be said to grow up. Yet we may distinguish. Thus we may look out for the earliest spontaneous, and what we may call original, manifestations of such dispositions as affection and truthfulness, so as to eliminate the direct action of instruction and example, and thus reduce the influence of the social medium on the child to a minimum. Similarly, in the case of brutal and other unlovely propensities, we may, by taking pains, get rid of the influence of bad example.
Let us see, then, how far the indictment of the child is a just one. Do children tend spontaneously to manifest the germs of vicious dispositions, and, if so, to what extent? Here, as I have suggested, we must be particularly careful not to read wrong interpretations into what we see. It will not do, for example, to say that children are born thieves because they show themselves at first charmingly indifferent to the distinction of meum and tuum, and are inclined to help themselves to other children's toys, and so forth. To repeat, what we have to inquire is whether children by their instinctive inclinations are contra-moral—that is, predisposed to what, if persevered in with reflection, we call immorality or vice.
Here we can not do better than touch on that group of feelings and dispositions which can be best marked off as antisocial, since they tend to the injury of others, such as anger, envy, and cruelty.
The most distant acquaintance with the first years of human life tells us that young children have much in common with the lower animals. Their characteristic passions and impulses are centered in self and the satisfaction of its wants. What is better marked, for example, than the boundless greed of the child, his keen desire to appropriate and enjoy whatever presents itself, and to resent others' participation in such enjoyment? For some time after its birth the child is little more than an incarnation of appetite which knows no restraint, and only yields to the undermining force of satiety.
The child's entrance into social life through a growing consciousness of the existence of others is marked by much fierce opposition to their wishes. His greed, which at the outset was but the expression of a vigorous nutritive instinct, now takes on more of a contra-moral aspect. The removal of the bottle by another before full satisfaction has been attained is, as we know, the occasion for one of the most impressive utterances of the baby's "will to live," and of its resentment of all human checks to its native impulses. In this outburst we have the first rude germ of that defiance of control and of authority of which I shall have to say more by and by
In another way too the expansion of the infant's consciousness through the recognition of others widens the terrane of greedy impulse. For envy commonly has its rise in the perception of another child's consumption of appetite's dainties.
Here, it is evident, we are still at the level of the animal. A dog is passionately greedy, like the child, will fiercely resent any interference with the satisfaction of its appetite, and will be envious of another and more fortunately placed animal.
Much the same concern for self and opposition to others' having what the child himself desires shows itself in the matter of toys and other possessions of interest. A child is apt not only to make free with another child's toys, but to show the strongest objection to any imitation of this freedom, often displaying a dog-in-the-manger spirit by refusing to lend what he himself does not want. Not only so, he will be apt to resent another child's having toys of his own. The envy of other children's possessions by a child is apt to be impressive by reason not only of its passionate intensity, but of its far-reaching extent.
As the social interests come into play so far as to make caresses and other signs of affection sources of pleasure to the child, the field for envy and its "green-eyed" offspring, jealousy, is still more enlarged. As is well known, an infant will greatly resent the mother's taking another child into her arms.
Here, again, we are at the level of the lower animals. They, too, as our dogs and cats show us, can be envious not only in the matter of eatables, but in that of human caressings, and even of possessions—witness the behavior of two dogs when a stick is thrown into the water.
Full illustrations of these traits of the first years of childhood are not needed. We all know them. M. Perez and others have culled a sufficient collection of examples.
Out of all this unrestrained pushing of appetite and desire whereby the child comes into rude collision with others' wants, wishes, and purposes there issue the well-known passionateness, the angry outburst, and the quarrelsomeness of the child. These fits of angry passion or temper are among the most curious manifestations of childhood, and deserve to be studied with much greater care than they have yet received.
The outburst of rage as the imperious little will feels itself suddenly pulled up has in spite of all its comicality something impressive. Hitting out right and left, throwing things down on the floor, breaking them, howling, and wild, agitated movement of the arms and whole body—these are the outward vents which the gust of fury is wont to take. Anything will do as object of attack. A child of four, on being crossed, would bang bis chair and then proceed to vent his displeasure on his unoffending toylion, banging him, jumping on him, and threatening him with the loss of his dinner. Hitting is in some cases improved upon bybiting. The boy C—— was for some time vigorously mordant in his angry fits. Another little boy would under similar circumstances bite the carpet.
Here we have expressive movements which are plainly brutal, which assimilate the aspect of an angry child to that of an angry savage and angry animal. The whole outward attitude is one of fierce, ruthless assault. The insane, I am told, manifest a like wildness of attack in fits of anger, smashing windows, etc., and striking anybody who happens to be at hand.
Yet these are not all the manifestations. Childish anger has its wretched aspect. There is keen suffering in these early experiences of thwarted will and purpose. A little boy rather more than a year old used, when crossed, to throw himself on the floor and bang the back of his head; and his brother, when fourteen months old, would similarly throw himself on the floor and bang the back of his head, biting the carpet as before mentioned. This act of throwing one's self on the floor, which is common during this early period, and is apparently quite instinctive, is the expression of the utter dejection of misery. C——'s attitude when crossed, gathered into a heap on the floor, was eloquent of this infantile despair. Such suffering is the immediate outcome of thwarted purpose, and must be distinguished from the moral feeling of shame which often accompanies it.
Such stormy outbursts vary, no doubt, from child to child. Thus, C——'s sister in her angry moments did not bite or roll on the floor, but would dance about and stamp. Some children show little if anything of this savage furiousness. Among those that do show it, it is often a temporary phenomenon only.
This anger, it is to be noted, is due to mere check of will by will, and would show itself to some extent even if there were no intervention of authority. Thus a child will show himself angry, resentful, and despairingly miserable if another child gets effective hold of something which he wants to have. Yet it is undoubtedly true, as we shall see, that these little storms are most frequently called up by the imposition of authority, and are a manifestation of what we call a defiant attitude.
This slight examination may suffice to show that with the child self—its appetites, its satisfactions—is the center of its existence, the pivot on which its action turns. I do not forget the real and striking differences here, the specially brutal form of boys' anger as compared with that of girls, the partial atrophy of some of these impulses—e. g., jealousy—in the more gentle and affectionate type of child. Yet there seems to me little doubt that these are common and among the most pronounced characters of the first years.
Evolution will, no doubt, help us to understand much of this. If the order of development of the child follows and summarizes that of the race, we should expect the child to show a germ at least of the passionateness, the quarrelsomeness of the brute and of the savage before he shows the moral qualities distinctive of civilized man. That he often shows so close a resemblance to the savage and to the brute suggests how little ages of civilized life, with its suppression of these furious impulses, have done to tone down the ancient and carefully transmitted instincts. The child at birth and for a long while after may then be said to be the representative of wild, untamed Nature, which it is for education to subdue and fashion into something softer and gentler.
At the same time the child is more than this. In this first clash of his will with another's he knows more than the brute's sensual fury. He suffers consciously, he realizes himself in his antagonism to a world outside him. It is probable, as I have pointed out before, that even a physical check bringing pain, as when the child runs his head against a wall, may develop this consciousness of self in its antagonism to a not-self. This consciousness reaches a higher phase when the opposing force is distinctly apprehended as another will. Self-feeling, a germ of the feeling of "my worth," enters into this early passionateness and differentiates it from a mere animal rage. The absolute prostration of infantile anger seems to be the expression of this keen consciousness of the self of its rebuff and injury.
While, then, these outbursts of savage instinct in children are, no doubt, ugly and in their direction contra-moral, they must not hastily be pronounced wholly bad and wicked. To call them wicked in the full sense of that term is indeed to forget that they are the swift reactions of instinct which have in them nothing of reflection or of deliberation. The angry child venting his spite in some wild act of violence is a long, long way from a man who knowingly and with the consent of his will retaliates and hates. The very fleeting character of the outbreak, the rapid subsidence of passion, and transition to another mood show that there is here no real malice prepense. These instincts will, no doubt, if they are not tamed, develop later into truly wicked dispositions; yet it is by no means a small matter to recognize that they do not amount to full moral depravity.
On the other hand, we have seen that we do not render complete justice to these early manifestations of angry passion if we class them with those of the brute. The child in these first years, though not yet human in the sense of having rational insight into his wrongdoing, is human in the sense of suffering through consciousness of an injured self. This reflective element is not yet moral; the sense of injury may turn by and by into lasting hatred. Yet it holds within itself possibilities of something higher. But of this more when we come to envisage the child in his relation to authority.
The same predominance of self, the same kinship with the unsocial brute which shows itself in these germinal animosities, is said to reappear in the insensibility or unfeelingness of children. The commonest charge against children from those who are not on intimate terms with them, and sometimes, alas! from those who are, is that they are heartless and cruel.
That children often appear to the adult as unfeeling as a stone is, I suppose, incontestable. The troubles which harass and oppress the mother leave her small companion quite unconcerned. He either goes on playing with undisturbed cheerfulness, or he betrays a momentary curiosity about some irrelevant circumstances connected with the affliction which is worse than the absorption in play through its tantalizing want of any genuine feeling. Brothers and sisters may be ill; but if the vigorous little player is affected at all, it is only through loss of companions, if this is not more than made up for by certain advantages of the solitary situation. If the mother is ill, the situation is interesting merely as supplying him with new treats. A little boy of four, after spending half an hour in his mother's sickroom, coolly informed his nurse: "I have had a very nice time; mamma's ill!" The order of the two statements is significant of the child's mental attitude toward others' sufferings. If his faithful nurse has her face bandaged, his interest in her torments does not go beyond a remark on the "funniness" of her new appearance.
When it comes to the bigger human troubles this want of fellow-feeling is still more remarkable. Nothing is more shocking to the adult observer of children than their coldness and stolidity in presence of death. While a whole house is stricken with grief at the loss of a beloved inmate the child preserves his serenity, being affected at most by a feeling of awe before a great mystery. Even the sight of the dead body does not always excite grief. Mrs. Burnett, in her interesting reminiscences of childhood, has an excellent account of the feelings of a sensitive and refined child when first brought face to face with death. In one case she was taken with fearsome longing to touch the dead body so as to know what "as cold as death" meant; in another, that of a pretty girl of three with golden-brown eyes and neat, small brown curls, she was impressed by the loveliness of the whole scene, the nursery bedroom being hung with white and adorned with white flowers. In neither case was she sorry, and could not cry, though she had imagined beforehand that she would. Even in this case, then, where so much feeling was called forth, commiseration for the dead companion seemed to have been almost wholly wanting.
No one, I think, will doubt that, judged by our standards, children are often profoundly and shockingly callous. But the question arises here, too, whether we are right in applying our grown-up standards. It is one thing to be indifferent with full knowledge of suffering, another to be indifferent in the sense in which a cat might be said to be indifferent at the spectacle of your falling or burning your finger. We are apt to assume that children know our sufferings instinctively, or at least that they can always enter into them when they are openly expressed. But this assumption is highly unreasonable. A large part of the manifestation of human suffering is unintelligible to a little child. He is not oppressed by our anxieties, our griefs, because these are to a large extent beyond his sympathetic comprehension.
We must remember, too, that there are moods and attitudes of mind favorable and unfavorable to sympathy. None of us are uniformly and consistently compassionate. It is wonderful how insensible really kind-hearted people can show themselves on occasion, as, for example, toward the afflictions of those whose previous good fortune they have envied. Children are the subject of moods which are exclusive of sympathy. They are impelled by their superabundant nervous energy to wild, romping activity; they are passionately absorbed in their play; they are intensely curious about the many new things they see and hear of. These dominant impulses issue in mental attitudes which are indifferent to the spectacle of others' troubles.
Again, where an appeal to serious attention is given, a child is apt to see something besides the sadness. The little girl already spoken of saw the prettiness of the death-room rather than its mournfulness. A teacher once told her class of the death of a classmate. There was, of course, a strange stillness, which one little girl presently broke with a loud laugh. The child is said to have been by no means unemotional, the laugh not a "nervous" one. The odd situation—the sudden hush of a class—had affected childish risibilities more than the distressing announcement.
One other remark by way of saving clause here. It is by no means true that children are always unaffected by the sad and sorrowful things in life. The first acquaintance with death, as we know from a number of published reminiscences, has sometimes shaken a child's whole being with an infinite nameless sense of woe. But of this more, presently, after we have heard the rest of the indictment.
Children, says the we look for sympathy and kindness; they are positively unkind, their unkindness amounting to cruelty. What we mean by the brute in the child is emphatically this cruelty. By cruelty is here understood cold-blooded infliction of pain. "Cet âge," wrote La Fontaine of childhood, "est sans pitié" The idea that children, especially boys, are cruel in this sense is, I think, a common one., are not only unfeeling when
This cruelty will now and again show itself in relation to other children. One of the trying situations of early life is to find one's self supplanted by the arrival of a new baby. Children, I have reason to think, are in such circumstances capable of coming shockingly near to a feeling of hatred. I have heard of one little girl who was taken with so violent an antipathy to a baby which she considered outrageously ugly as to make futile attempts to smash its head, much as she would, no doubt, have tried to destroy a doll which had become unsightly to her. The baby, I may as well add, was not really hurt by this shocking precocity of infanticidal impulse—perhaps the smashing was more than half a "pretense"—and the little girl grew up to be a kind-hearted woman.
Such cruel-looking handling of smaller infants is probably rare. More common is the exhibition of the signs of cruelty in the child's dealings with animals. It is of this, indeed, that we mostly think when we speak of a child's cruelty. Young children are not, I think, often charged, even by the harshest of their accusers, deliberately with inflicting pain on their human companions.
At first nothing seems clearer than the evidence of malicious intention in a child's treatment of animals. Look, for example, at a little girl trying to get the cat from some hiding place. She grabs at its tail, receives formidable scratches, yet perseveres with something of a soldier's indifference to her own pains. Do we not here see evidences of a determination to plague, and of a delight in plaguing? Or watch a child chasing a fly on the window pane, and note the hard, doglike pertinacity with which he follows it up and at length pins and crushes it with his fingers.
The question of the innermost nature of human cruelty is too difficult a one to be discussed here. I will only say that, whatever the cruelty of adults may be, children's so-called cruelty toward animals is very far from being a pure delight in the sight of suffering. The torments to which a child will subject a long-suffering cat are, I suspect, due not to a clear intention to inflict pain, but to the child's impulse to hold, possess, and completely dominate the pet animal. It is a manifestation of that odd mixture of sociability and love of power which makes up a child's attachment to the lower animals.
The case of destructive cruelty is somewhat different. Let me give a well-observed instance. A little boy of two years and two months, "after nearly killing a fly on the window pane, seemed surprised and disturbed, looking round for an explanation, then gave it himself: 'Mr. Fy dom (gone) to by by'; but he would not touch it or another fly again—a doubt evidently remained, and he continued uneasy about it." Here we have, I think, the instinctive attitude of a child toward the outcome of its destructive impulse. And this destructive impulse, which as we know becomes more clearly destructive when experience has taught what result follows, is not necessarily cruel in the sense of including an idea of the animal's suffering. Animal movement, especially that of tiny things, has something exciting and provoking about it. The child's own activity, and the love of power which is bound up with it, impel him to arrest the movement. This is the meaning, I suspect, of the fascination of the fly on the window pane, and other small capturable creatures, as later on of birds. The cat's prolonged chase of the mouse, into which something of a dramatic make-believe enters, owes its zest to a like delight in the realization of the captor's power.
Along with this love of power there goes often something of a child's fierce, untamable curiosity. A boy of four, finding that his mother was shocked at hearing him express a wish to see a pigeon which a dog had just killed, remarked: "Is it rude to look at a dead pigeon? I want to see where its blood is." I am disposed to think that the crushing of flies and moths and the pulling of worms to pieces, and so forth, are prompted by this curiosity. The child wants to see where the blood is, what the bones are like, how the wings are fastened in, and so forth.
A like combination of love of power and of curiosity seems to underlie other directions of childish destructiveness, as the breaking of toys and the pulling of flowers to pieces. In certain cases, as in C——'s destruction of a whole garden of peonies, the love of power or effect overtops and outlives the curiosity, becoming a sort of savage greed.
I think, then, that we may give the little child the benefit of the doubt, and not assign its rough handling of sentient things to a wish to inflict pain, or even to an indifference to pain of which he is clearly aware. Wanton activity, the curiosity of the experimenter, and delight in realizing one's power and producing an effect, seem sufficient to explain most of the alleged cruelty of the first years. That later on cruelty becomes possible, that the school bully may find his satisfaction in tormenting the "little kids" this is but too certain. Yet even schoolboys with clearest example to guide them are by no means always bullies.
We have now looked at one of the dark sides of the child and have found that, though it is unpleasant, it is not so hideous as it has been painted. Children are, no doubt, apt to be passionate, ferocious in their anger, and sadly wanting in consideration for others; yet it is consolatory to reflect that their savageness is not quite that of brutes, and that their selfishness and cruelty are a long way removed from a deliberate and calculating egoism.
It now remains to point out that there is another and counterbalancing side. If a child has his outbursts of temper he has also his fits of tenderness. If he is now dead to others' sufferings, he is at another time taken with a most amiable, childish concern for their happiness. In order to be just to the child we must recognize both sides.
It must not be forgotten here that children are instinctively attachable and sociable, in so far as they show in the first weeks that they get used to and dependent on the human presence, and are miserable when this is taken from them. The stopping of a child's crying at night on hearing the familiar voice of its mother or nurse shows this.
In this instinct of companionship there is involved a vague inarticulate sympathy. Just as the attached dog may be said to have in a vague way a feeling of oneness with its master, so the child. The intenser realization of this oneness comes in the case of the dog and of the child alike after separation. The wild, caressing leaps of the quadruped are matched by the warm embracings of the little biped. Only that here, too, we see in the child traces of a deeper human consciousness. A girl of thirteen months was separated from her mother for six weeks. On the mother's return she was speechless, and for some time could not bear to leave her mother for a minute.
This sense of joining on one's existence to another's is not full imaginative sympathy—that is, a warm realizing representation of another's feelings—but it is a kind of sympathy, after all, and may grow into something better. This we may see in the return of the childish heart to its resting place after the estrangement introduced by "naughtiness." The relenting after passion, the reconciliation after punishment, are these not the experiences which help to raise the dumb-animal sympathy of the first months into a true human sense of fellowship? But this part of the development of sympathy belongs to another chapter.
Sympathy, it has been said, is a kind of imitation, and this is strikingly illustrated in its early forms. A dog will howl piteously in response to another dog's howl; similarly a child of nine and a half months has been known to cry violently when its mother or father pretends to cry.
One curious manifestation of this early imitative sympathy is the impulse to do what the mother does and to be what she is. Much of early imitative play shows this tendency. It is more than a cold, distant copying of another's doings; it is full of the warmth of attachment, and it is entered on as a way of getting nearer the object of attachment. Out of this, too, there springs the germ of a higher sympathy. It will be remembered that Laura Bridgman bound the eyes of her doll with a bandage similar to the one she herself wore. Through this sharing in her own experience the doll became more a part of herself. Conversely, a child, on finding that her mother's head ached, began imitatively to make believe that her own head was hurt. Imaginative sympathy rests on community of experience, and it is curious that a child, before he can fully sympathize with another's trouble and make it his own by the sympathetic process itself, should thus show the impulse to procure by a kind of childish acting this community of experience.
From this imitative acting of another's trouble so as to share in it, there is but a step to a direct sympathetic apprehension of it. How early a genuine manifestation of concern at another's misery begins to show itself, it is almost impossible to say. Children probably differ greatly in this respect. I have, however, one case which is so curious that I can not forbear to quote it. It reaches me, I may say, by a thoroughly trustworthy channel.
A baby, aged one year and two months, was crawling on the floor. An elder sister, Katherine, aged six, who was working at a wool mat, could not get on very well, and began to cry. Baby looked up and grunted, "On! on!" and kept drawing its fingers down its own cheeks. Here the aunt called Miss Katherine's attention to baby, a device which merely caused a fresh outburst of tears. Whereupon baby proceeded to hitch itself along to Katherine with many repetitions of the grunts and the finger gestures. Katherine, fairly overcome by this, took baby to her and smiled. At which baby began to clap its hands and to crow, tracing this time the course of the tears down its sister's cheeks.
This pretty nursery picture certainly seems to illustrate a rudiment of genuine fellow-feeling. Similarly, it is hard not to recognize the signs of a sincere concern when a child of two will run spontaneously and kiss the place that is hurt, even though it is not to be doubted that the graceful action was learned through imitation.
Very sweet and sacred to the mother are the child's first clear indications of concern for herself. These are sporadic, springing up rarely, and sometimes, as it looks to us, capriciously. Illness and temporary removal are a common occasion for the appearances of a deeper tenderness in the young heart. A little boy of three spontaneously brought his story book to his mother when she lay in bed ill; and the same child used to follow her about after her recovery with all the devotion of a little knight.
Very quaint and pretty, too, are the first attempts of the child at consolation. A little German girl, aged two and a half, had just lost her brother, and seemed very indifferent for some days. She then began to reflect and to ask about her playmate. On seeing her mother's distress she proceeded in truly childish fashion to comfort her: "Never, mind mamma, you will get a better boy. He was a ragamuffin" ("Er war ein Lump"). The coexistence of an almost barbarous indifference for the dead brother with practical sympathy for the living mother is characteristic here.
A deeper and more thoughtful sympathy comes with years and reflective power. Thought about the overhanging terror, death, is sometimes the awakener of this. "Are you old, mother?" asked a boy of five. "Why?" she answered. "Because," he continued, "the older you are the nearer you are to dying." This child had once before said he hoped his mother would not die before him, and this suggests that the thought of his own forlorn condition was in his mind here; yet we may hope that there was something of disinterested concern too.
This early consideration frequently takes the practical form of helpfulness. A child loves nothing better than to assist you in little household occupations; and though love of activity and the pleasure of imitating, no doubt, count for much in these cases we can, I think, safely set down something to the wish to be of use. This inference seems justified by the fact that such practical helpfulness is not always imitative. A little boy of two years and one month happened to overhear his nurse say to herself, "I wish that Anne would remember to fill the nursery boiler." "He listened and presently trotted off, found the said Anne doing a distant grate, pulled her by the apron, saying, 'Nanna, Nanna!' (come to nurse). She followed, surprised and puzzled, the child pulling all the way, till, having got her into the nursery, he pointed to the boiler, adding, 'Go dare, go dare,' so that the girl comprehended and did as he bade her."
With this practical "utilitarian" sympathy there goes a wish to please in other ways. Sometimes this shows itself in a dainty courtesy, as when a little girl, aged three and a quarter, petitioned her mother in this wise: "Please, mamma, will you pin this with the greatest pleasure?" Regard for another's feelings was surely never more charmingly expressed than in the prayer that in rendering this little service the helper should not only be willing but glad.
Just as there are these sporadic growths of affectionate concern and wish to please in relation to the mother and others, so there is ample evidence of kindness to animals. The charge of cruelty in the case of little children is indeed seen to be a gross libel as soon as we consider their whole behavior toward the animal world.
I have touched above on the vague alarms which this animal world has for tiny children. It is only fair to them to say that these alarms are for the most part transitory, giving place to interest, attachment, and fellow-feeling. In a sense a child may be said to belong to the animal community, as Mr. Rudyard Kipling's account of the Jungle prettily suggests. Has he not indeed at first more in common with the dog and cat, the pet rabbit or dormouse, than with that grown-up human community which is apt to be so preoccupied with things beyond his understanding, and in many cases at least to wear so unfriendly a mien? We must remember, too, that children as a rule know nothing of the prejudices, of the disgusts, which make grown people put animals so far from them. The boy C—— was nonplussed by his mother's horror of the caterpillar. A child has been known quite spontaneously to call a worm "beautiful."
As soon as the first fear of the strangeness is mastered a child will take to the animal. A little boy of fifteen months quickly overcame his fright at the barking of his grandfather's dog, and began to share his biscuits with him, to give him flowers to smell, and to throw stones for his amusement. This mastery of fear by attachment takes a higher form when later on the child will stick to his dumb companion after suffering from his occasional fits of temper. Ruskin gives in his reminiscences a striking example of this triumph of attachment over fear. When five years old, he tells us, he was taken by the serving man to see a favorite Newfoundland dog in the stable. The man rather foolishly humored the child's wish to kiss Leo (the dog), and lowered him so that his face came near the animal's. Hereupon the dog, who was dining, resenting the interruption of his meal, bit out a piece of the boy's lip. His only fear after this was lest Lion (the dog) should be sent away.
Children will too at a quite early age betray the germ of a truly humane feeling toward animals. The same little boy that bravely got over his fear of the dog's barking would, when nineteen months old, begin to cry on seeing a horse fall in the street. More passionate outbursts of pity are seen at a later age. A boy of five years and nine months had a kitten of which he was very fond. One day, after two or three days' absence from the house, it came back with one foot much mutilated and the leg swollen, evidently not far from dying. "When" (writes the mother) "he saw it, he burst into uncontrollable tears, and was more affected than I have ever seen him. The kitten was taken away and drowned, and ever since (a month) he has shown great reluctance in speaking of it, and never mentions it to any one but those who saw the cat at the time. He says it is too sad to tell any one of it." The boy C——, when only four, was moved to passionate grief at the sight of a dead dog taken from a pond.
The righteous indignation of children at the doings of the butcher, the hunter, and others, which deserves a chapter to itself, shows how deeply pitiful consideration for animals is rooted in their hearts.
It is sometimes asked why children should take animals to their bosoms in this fashion, and lavish so much fellow-feeling on them. It seems easy to understand how they come to choose animals, especially young ones, as playmates, and now and again to be ruthlessly inconsiderate of their comfort in their boisterous gambols; but why should they be so affected by their sufferings and champion their rights so zealously? I think the answer is not hard to find. The sympathy and love which the child gives to animals grows out of a kind of blind, gregarious instinct, and this again seems to be rooted in a similarity of position and needs. As M. Compayré well says on this point: "He (the child) sympathizes naturally with creatures which resemble him on so many sides, in which he finds wants analogous to his own, the same appetite, the same impulses to movement, the same desire for caresses. To resemble is already to love." I think, however, that a deeper feeling comes in from the first and gathers strength as the child hears about men's treatment of animals I mean a sense of a common danger and helplessness face to face with the human "giants." The more passionate attachment of the child to the animal is the outcome of the widespread instinct of helpless things to band together. A mother once remarked to her boy, between five and six years old, "Why, R——, I believe you are kinder to the animals than to me!" "Perhaps I am" (he replied); "you see they are not so well off as you are." May there not be something of this sense of banding and mutual defense on the animals' side too? The idea does not look so absurd when we remember how responsive, how forbearing, how ready to defend a dog will often show itself toward a "wee mite" of a child.
The same outpourings of affection are seen in the dealings of children with their toy babies and animals. Allowing for occasional outbreaks of temper and acts of violence, the child's intercourse with his doll and his toy "gee gee" is on the whole a striking display of loving solicitude—a solicitude which is at once tender and corrective, and has the enduring constancy of a maternal instinct. No one can watch the care given to a doll, the wide-ranging efforts to provide for its comfort, keeping it Warm, feeding it, bathing it, tending it while sick and so forth, to make it look pretty, to make it behave nicely, approving, scolding, as occasion arises, and note the misery of the child when parted from it, without acknowledging that in this plaything humanized by childish fancy we have the very focus of the rays of childish tenderness; that in the child's devotion to its wooden pet we have a striking example of the truth that daily companionship and the habit of caring for a thing make it an inseparable part of us.
Lastly, the reader may be reminded that childish kindness and pitifulness extend to what look to us still less deserving objects in the inanimate world. The expression of pity for the falling leaves and for the stones condemned to lie always in one place, referred to above, shows how quick childish feeling is to detect what is sad in the look of things. Children have even been known to apply the commiserating vocable "poor" to a torn paper figure and to a bent pin. It seems right to suppose tha.t here too the tender heart of the child saw occasion for pity.
It is worth noting that childish sorrow at the sufferings of things is sometimes so keen that even artistic descriptions which contain a "cruel" element are shunned. A little boy under four "is indignant [writes his mother] at any picture where an animal suffers. He has even turned against several of his favorite pictures—German Bilderbogen—because they are 'cruel' as the bear led home with a corkscrew in his nose." The extreme manifestation of this shrinking from the representation of animal or human suffering is dislike for "sad stories." The unsophisticated tender heart of the child can find no pleasure in horrors which appear to be the crowning delight of many an adult reader.
Here, however, it is evident we verge on the confines of sentimental pity. It is worth remarking that it is the highly imaginative children who shed most tears over these fictitious sufferings. Children with more matter-of-fact minds and a practical turn are not so affected. Thus a mother writes of her two girls: "M——, being the most imaginative, is and always has been much affected by sad stories, especially if read to her with dramatic inflections of voice. From two years old upward these have always affected her to tears, while P——, who is really the most tender-hearted and helpful, but has little imagination, never cries at sad stories, and when four years old explained to me that she did not mind them because she knew they didn't really happen."
It appears to me to be incontestable that in this spontaneous outgoing of fellow-feeling toward others, human and animal, the child manifests something of a truly moral quality. C——'s stout and persistent advocacy of the rights of London horses against the oppression of the bearing-rein had in it something of righteous . The way in which his mind was at this period preoccupied with animal suffering suggests that his sympathies with animals were rousing the first fierce protest against the wicked injustice of the world. The boy De Quincey got this first feeling of moral evil in another way through his sympathy with a sister who, rumor said, had been brutally treated by a servant. He could not, he tells us, bear to look on the woman. It was not anger. "The feeling which fell upon me was a shuddering horror, as upon a first glimpse of the truth that I was in a world of evil and strife."
- L'Evolution intell. et mort de l'enfant, chap xiv, ii
- See, for example, The First Three Years of Childhood, p. 66 ff.
- Ruskin tells us that when a child he pulled flowers to pieces "in no morbid curiosity, but in admiring wonder" (Præterita, 88). Goethe gives an amusing account of his wholesale throwing of crockery out of the window, inspired by the delight of watching the droll way in which it was smashed on the pavement.
- Præterita, pp. 105, 106.
- Op. tit., p. 108.
- Autobiographical Sketches, chap. i.