BITS ABOUT HOME MATTERS.
By H. H.,
Author of "Verses" and "Bits of Travel."
The Inhumanities of Parents—Corporal Punishment The Inhumanities of Parents—Needless Denials The Inhumanities of Parents—Rudeness Breaking the Will The Reign of Archelaus The Awkward Age A Day with a Courteous Mother Children in Nova Scotia The Republic of the Family The Ready-to-Halts The Descendants of Nabal "Boys not allowed" Half an Hour in a Railway Station A Genius for Affection Rainy Days Friends of the Prisoners A Companion for the Winter Choice of Colors The Apostle of Beauty English Lodging-Houses Wet the Clay The King's Friend Learning to speak Private Tyrants Margin The Fine Art of Smiling Death-bed Repentance The Correlation of Moral Forces A Simple Bill of Fare for a Christmas Dinner Children's Parties After-supper Talk Hysteria in Literature Jog Trot The Joyless American Spiritual Teething Glass Houses The Old-Clothes Monger in Journalism The Country Landlord's Side The Good Staff of Pleasure Wanted—a Home
Bits of Talk.
The Inhumanities of Parents—Corporal Punishment.
Not long ago a Presbyterian minister in Western New York whipped his three-year-old boy to death, for refusing to say his prayers. The little fingers were broken; the tender flesh was bruised and actually mangled; strong men wept when they looked on the body; and the reverend murderer, after having been set free on bail, was glad to return and take refuge within the walls of his prison, to escape summary punishment at the hands of an outraged community. At the bare mention of such cruelty, every heart grew sick and faint; men and women were dumb with horror: only tears and a hot demand for instant retaliation availed.
The question whether, after all, that baby martyr were not fortunate among his fellows, would, no doubt, be met by resentful astonishment. But it is a question which may well be asked, may well be pondered. Heart-rending as it is to think for an instant of the agonies which the poor child must have borne for some hours after his infant brain was too bewildered by terror and pain to understand what was required of him, it still cannot fail to occur to deeper reflection that the torture was short and small in comparison with what the next ten years might have held for him if he had lived. To earn entrance on the spiritual life by the briefest possible experience of the physical, is always "greater gain;" but how emphatically is it so when the conditions of life upon earth are sure to be unfavorable!
If it were possible in any way to get a statistical summing-up and a tangible presentation of the amount of physical pain inflicted by parents on children under twelve years of age, the most callous-hearted would be surprised and shocked. If it were possible to add to this estimate an accurate and scientific demonstration of the extent to which such pain, by weakening the nervous system and exhausting its capacity to resist disease, diminishes children's chances for life, the world would stand aghast.
Too little has been said upon this point. The opponents of corporal punishment usually approach the subject either from the sentimental or the moral standpoint. The argument on either of these grounds can be made strong enough, one would suppose, to paralyze every hand lifted to strike a child. But the question of the direct and lasting physical effect of blows—even of one blow on the delicate tissues of a child's body, on the frail and trembling nerves, on the sensitive organization which is trying, under a thousand unfavoring conditions, to adjust itself to the hard work of both living and growing—has yet to be properly considered.
Every one knows the sudden sense of insupportable pain, sometimes producing even dizziness and nausea, which follows the accidental hitting of the ankle or elbow against a hard substance. It does not need that the blow be very hard to bring involuntary tears to adult eyes. But what is such a pain as this, in comparison with the pain of a dozen or more quick tingling blows from a heavy hand on flesh which is, which must be as much more sensitive than ours, as are the souls which dwell in it purer than ours. Add to this physical pain the overwhelming terror which only utter helplessness can feel, and which is the most recognizable quality in the cry of a very young child under whipping; add the instinctive sense of disgrace, of outrage, which often keeps the older child stubborn and still through-out,—and you have an amount and an intensity of suffering from which even tried nerves might shrink. Again, who does not know—at least, what woman does not know—that violent weeping, for even a very short time, is quite enough to cause a feeling of languor and depression, of nervous exhaustion for a whole day? Yet it does not seem to occur to mothers that little children must feel this, in proportion to the length of time and violence of their crying, far more than grown people. Who has not often seen a poor child receive, within an hour or two of the first whipping, a second one, for some small ebullition of nervous irritability, which was simply inevitable from its spent and worn condition?
It is safe to say that in families where whipping is regularly recognized as a punishment, few children under ten years of age, and of average behavior, have less than one whipping a week. Sometimes they have more, sometimes the whipping is very severe. Thus you have in one short year sixty or seventy occasions on which for a greater or less time, say from one to three hours, the child's nervous system is subjected to a tremendous strain from the effect of terror and physical pain combined with long crying. Will any physician tell us that this fact is not an element in that child's physical condition at the end of that year? Will any physician dare to say that there may not be, in that child's life, crises when the issues of life and death will be so equally balanced that the tenth part of the nervous force lost in such fits of crying, and in the endurance of such pain, could turn the scale?
Nature's retributions, like her rewards, are cumulative. Because her sentences against evil works are not executed speedily, therefore the hearts of the sons of men are fully set in them to do evil. But the sentence always is executed, sooner or later, and that inexorably. Your son, O unthinking mother! may fall by the way in the full prime of his manhood, for lack of that strength which his infancy spent in enduring your hasty and severe punishments.
It is easy to say,—and universally is said,—by people who cling to the old and fight against the new, "All this outcry about corporal punishment is sentimental nonsense. The world is full of men and women, who have grown up strong and good, in spite of whippings; and as for me, I know I never had any more whipping than I deserved, or than was good for me."
Are you then so strong and clear and pure in your physical and spiritual nature and life, that you are sure no different training could have made either your body or your soul better? Are these men and women, of whom the world is full, so able-bodied, whole-souled, strong-minded, that you think it needless to look about for any method of making the next generation better? Above all, do you believe that it is a part of the legitimate outworking of God's plan and intent in creating human beings to have more than one-half of them die in childhood? If we are not to believe that this fearful mortality is a part of God's plan, is it wise to refuse to consider all possibilities, even those seemingly most remote, of diminishing it?
No argument is so hard to meet (simply because it is not an argument) as the assumption of the good and propriety of "the thing that hath been." It is one of the devil's best sophistries, by which he keeps good people undisturbed in doing the things he likes. It has been in all ages the bulwark behind which evils have made stand, and have slain their thousands. It is the last enemy which shall be destroyed. It is the only real support of the cruel evil of corporal punishment.
Suppose that such punishment of children had been unheard of till now. Suppose that the idea had yesterday been suggested for the first time that by inflicting physical pain on a child's body you might make him recollect certain truths; and suppose that instead of whipping, a very moderate and harmless degree of pricking with pins or cutting with knives or burning with fire had been suggested. Would not fathers and mothers have cried out all over the land at the inhumanity of the idea?
Would they not still cry out at the inhumanity of one who, as things are to-day, should propose the substitution of pricking or cutting or burning for whipping? But I think it would not be easy to show in what wise small pricks or cuts are more inhuman than blows; or why lying may not be as legitimately cured by blisters made with a hot coal as by black and blue spots made with a ruler. The principle is the same; and if the principle be right, why not multiply methods?
It seems as if this one suggestion, candidly considered, might be enough to open all parents' eyes to the enormity of whipping. How many a loving mother will, without any thought of cruelty, inflict half-a-dozen quick blows on the little hand of her child, when she could no more take a pin and make the same number of thrusts into the tender flesh, than she could bind the baby on a rack. Yet the pin-thrusts would hurt far less, and would probably make a deeper impression on the child's mind.
Among the more ignorant classes, the frequency and severity of corporal punishment of children, are appalling. The facts only need to be held up closely and persistently before the community to be recognized as horrors of cruelty far greater than some which have been made subjects of legislation.
It was my misfortune once to be forced to spend several of the hottest weeks of a hot summer in New York. In near neighborhood to my rooms were blocks of buildings which had shops on the first floor and tenements above. In these lived the families of small tradesmen, and mechanics of the better sort. During those scorching nights every window was thrown open, and all sounds were borne with distinctness through the hot still air. Chief among them were the shrieks and cries of little children, and blows and angry words from tired, overworked mothers. At times it became almost unbearable: it was hard to refrain from an attempt at rescue. Ten, twelve, twenty quick, hard blows, whose sound rang out plainly, I counted again and again; mingling with them came the convulsive screams of the poor children, and that most piteous thing of all, the reiteration of "Oh, mamma! oh, mamma!" as if, through all, the helpless little creatures had an instinct that this word ought to be in itself the strongest appeal. These families were all of the better class of work people, comfortable and respectable. What sounds were to be heard in the more wretched haunts of the city, during those nights, the heart struggled away from fancying. But the shrieks of those children will never wholly die out of the air. I hear them to-day; and mingling with them, the question rings perpetually in my ears, "Why does not the law protect children, before the point at which life is endangered?"
A cartman may be arrested in the streets for the brutal beating of a horse which is his own, and which he has the right to kill if he so choose. Should not a man be equally withheld from the brutal beating of a child who is not his own, but God's, and whom to kill is murder?
The Inhumanities of Parents—Needless Denials.
Webster's Dictionary, which cannot be accused of any leaning toward sentimentalism, defines "inhumanity" as "cruelty in action;" and "cruelty" as "an act of a human being which inflicts unnecessary pain." The word inhumanity has an ugly sound, and many inhuman people are utterly and honestly unconscious of their own inhumanities; it is necessary therefore to entrench one's self behind some such bulwark as the above definitions afford, before venturing the accusation that fathers and mothers are habitually guilty of inhuman conduct in inflicting "unnecessary pain" on their children, by needless denials of their innocent wishes and impulses.
Most men and a great many women would be astonished at being told that simple humanity requires them to gratify every wish, even the smallest, of their children, when the pain of having that wish denied is not made necessary, either for the child's own welfare, physical or mental, or by circumstances beyond the parent's control. The word "necessary" is a very authoritative one; conscience, if left free, soon narrows down its boundaries; inconvenience, hindrance, deprivation, self-denial, one or all, or even a great deal of all, to ourselves, cannot give us a shadow of right to say that the pain of the child's disappointment is "necessary." Selfishness grasps at help from the hackneyed sayings, that it is "best for children to bear the yoke in their youth;" "the sooner they learn that they cannot have their own way the better;" "it is a good discipline for them to practise self-denial," &c. But the yoke that they must bear, in spite of our lightening it all we can, is heavy enough; the instances in which it is, for good and sufficient reasons, impossible for them to have their own way are quite numerous enough to insure their learning the lesson very early; and as for the discipline of self-denial,—God bless their dear, patient souls!—if men and women brought to bear on the thwartings and vexations of their daily lives, and their relations with each other, one hundredth part of the sweet acquiescence and brave endurance which average children show, under the average management of average parents, this world would be a much pleasanter place to live in than it is.
Let any conscientious and tender mother, who perhaps reads these words with tears half of resentment, half of grief in her eyes, keep for three days an exact record of the little requests which she refuses, from the baby of five, who begged to stand on a chair and look out of the window, and was hastily told, "No, it would, hurt the chair," when one minute would have been enough time to lay a folded newspaper over the upholstery, and another minute enough to explain to him, with a kiss and a hug, "that that was to save his spoiling mamma's nice chair with his boots;" and the two minutes together would probably have made sure that another time the dear little fellow would look out for a paper himself, when he wished to climb up to the window,—from this baby up to the pretty girl of twelve, who, with as distinct a perception of the becoming as her mother had before her, went to school unhappy because she was compelled to wear the blue necktie instead of the scarlet one, and surely for no especial reason! At the end of the three days, an honest examination of the record would show that full half of these small denials, all of which had involved pain, and some of which had brought contest and punishment, had been needless, had been hastily made, and made usually on account of the slight interruption or inconvenience which would result from yielding to the request. I am very much mistaken if the honest keeping and honest study of such a three days' record would not wholly change the atmosphere in many a house to what it ought to be, and bring almost constant sunshine and bliss where now, too often, are storm and misery.
With some parents, although they are neither harsh nor hard in manner, nor yet unloving in nature, the habitual first impulse seems to be to refuse: they appear to have a singular obtuseness to the fact that it is, or can be, of any consequence to a child whether it does or does not do the thing it desires. Often the refusal is withdrawn on the first symptom of grief or disappointment on the child's part; a thing which is fatal to all real control of a child, and almost as unkind as the first unnecessary denial,—perhaps even more so, as it involves double and treble pains, in future instances, where there cannot and must not be any giving way to entreaties. It is doubtless this lack of perception,—akin, one would think, to color-blindness,—which is at the bottom of this great and common inhumanity among kind and intelligent fathers and mothers: an inhumanity so common that it may almost be said to be universal; so common that, while we are obliged to look on and see our dearest friends guilty of it, we find it next to impossible to make them understand what we mean when we make outcry over some of its glaring instances.
You, my dearest of friends,—or, rather, you who would be, but for this one point of hopeless contention between us,—do you remember a certain warm morning, last August, of which I told you then you had not heard the last? Here it is again: perhaps in print I can make it look blacker to you than I could then; part of it I saw, part of it you unwillingly confessed to me, and part of it little Blue Eyes told me herself.
It was one of those ineffable mornings, when a thrill of delight and expectancy fills the air; one felt that every appointment of the day must be unlike those of other days,—must be festive, must help on the "white day" for which all things looked ready. I remember how like the morning itself you looked as you stood in the doorway, in a fresh white muslin dress, with lavender ribbons. I said, "Oh, extravagance! For breakfast!"
"I know," you said; "but the day was so enchanting, I could not make up my mind to wear any thing that had been worn before." Here an uproar from the nursery broke out, and we both ran to the spot. There stood little Blue Eyes, in a storm of temper, with one small foot on a crumpled mass of pink cambric on the floor; and nurse, who was also very red and angry, explained that Miss would not have on her pink frock because it was not quite clean. "It is all dirty, mamma, and I don't want to put it on! You've got on a nice white dress: why can't I?"
You are in the main a kind mother, and you do not like to give little Blue Eyes pain; so you knelt down beside her, and told her that she must be a good girl, and have on the gown Mary had said, but that she should have on a pretty white apron, which would hide the spots. And Blue Eyes, being only six years old, and of a loving, generous nature, dried her tears, accepted the very questionable expedient, tried to forget the spots, and in a few moments came out on the piazza, chirping like a little bird. By this time the rare quality of the morning had stolen like wine into our brains, and you exclaimed, "We will have breakfast out here, under the vines! How George will like it!" And in another instant you were flitting back and forth, helping the rather ungracious Bridget move out the breakfast-table, with its tempting array.
"Oh, mamma, mamma," cried Blue Eyes, "can't I have my little tea-set on a little table beside your big table? Oh, let me, let me!" and she fairly quivered with excitement. You hesitated. How I watched you! But it was a little late. Bridget was already rather cross; the tea-set was packed in a box, and up on a high shelf.
"No, dear. There is not time, and we must not make Bridget any more trouble; but"—seeing the tears coming again—"you shall have some real tea in papa's big gilt cup, and another time you shall have your tea-set when we have breakfast out here again." As I said before, you are a kind mother, and you made the denial as easy to be borne as you could, and Blue Eyes was again pacified, not satisfied, only bravely making the best of it. And so we had our breakfast; a breakfast to be remembered, too. But as for the "other time" which you had promised to Blue Eyes; how well I knew that not many times a year did such mornings and breakfasts come, and that it was well she would forget all about it! After breakfast,—you remember how we lingered,—George suddenly started up, saying, "How hard it is to go to town! I say, girls, walk down to the station with me, both of you."
"And me too, me too, papa!" said Blue Eyes. You did not hear her; but I did, and she had flown for her hat. At the door we found her, saying again, "Me too, mamma!" Then you remembered her boots: "Oh, my darling," you said, kissing her, for you are a kind mother, "you cannot go in those nice boots: the dew will spoil them; and it is not worth while to change them, we shall be back in a few minutes."
A storm of tears would have burst out in an instant at this the third disappointment, if I had not sat down on the door-step, and, taking her in my lap, whispered that auntie was going to stay too.
"Oh, put the child down, and come along," called the great, strong, uncomprehending man—Blue Eyes' dear papa. "Pussy won't mind. Be a good girl, pussy; I'll bring you a red balloon to-night."
You are both very kind, you and George, and you both love little Blue Eyes dearly.
"No, I won't come. I believe my boots are too thin," said I; and for the equivocation there was in my reply I am sure of being forgiven. You both turned back twice to look at the child, and kissed your hands to her; and I wondered if you did not see in her face, what I did, real grief and patient endurance. Even "The King of the Golden River" did not rouse her: she did not want a story; she did not want me; she did not want a red balloon at night; she wanted to walk between you, to the station, with her little hands in yours! God grant the day may not come when you will be heart-broken because you can never lead her any more!
She asked me some questions, while you were gone, which you remember I repeated to you. She asked me if I did not hate nice new shoes; and why little girls could not put on the dresses they liked best; and if mamma did not look beautiful in that pretty white dress; and said that, if she could only have had her own tea-set, at breakfast, she would have let me have my coffee in one of her cups. Gradually she grew happier, and began to tell me about her great wax-doll, which had eyes that could shut; which was kept in a trunk because she was too little, mamma said, to play very much with it now; but she guessed mamma would let her have it to-day; did I not think so? Alas! I did, and I said so; in fact, I felt sure that it was the very thing you would be certain to do, to sweeten the day, which had begun so sadly for poor little Blue Eyes.
It seemed very long to her before you came back, and she was on the point of asking for her dolly as soon as you appeared; but I whispered to her to wait till you were rested. After a few minutes I took her up to your room,—that lovely room with the bay window to the east; there you sat, in your white dress, surrounded with gay worsteds, all looking like a carnival of humming-birds. "Oh, how beautiful!" I exclaimed, in involuntary admiration; "what are you doing?" You said that you were going to make an affghan, and that the morning was so enchanting you could not bear the thought of touching your mending, but were going to luxuriate in the worsteds. Some time passed in sorting the colors, and deciding on the contrasts, and I forgot all about the doll. Not so little Blue Eyes. I remembered afterward how patiently she stood still, waiting and waiting for a gap between our words, that she need not break the law against interrupting, with her eager—
"Please, mamma, let me have my wax dolly to play with this morning! I'll sit right here on the floor, by you and auntie, and not hurt her one bit. Oh, please do, mamma!"
You mean always to be a very kind mother, and you spoke as gently and lovingly as it is possible to speak when you replied:—
"Oh, Pussy, mamma is too busy to get it; she can't get up now. You can play with your blocks, and with your other dollies, just as well; that's a good little girl."
Probably, if Blue Eyes had gone on imploring, you would have laid your worsteds down, and given her the dolly; for you love her dearly, and never mean to make her unhappy. But neither you nor I were prepared for what followed.
"You're a naughty, ugly, hateful mamma! You never let me do any thing, and I wish you were dead!" with such a burst of screaming and tears that we were both frightened. You looked, as well you might, heart-broken at such words from your only child. You took her away; and when you came back, you cried, and said you had whipped her severely, and you did not know what you should do with a child of such a frightful temper.
"Such an outburst as that, just because I told her, in the gentlest way possible, that she could not have a plaything! It is terrible!"
Then I said some words to you, which you thought were unjust. I asked you in what condition your own nerves would have been by ten o'clock that morning if your husband (who had, in one view, a much better right to thwart your harmless desires than you had to thwart your child's, since you, in the full understanding of maturity, gave yourself into his hands) had, instead of admiring your pretty white dress, told you to be more prudent, and not put it on; had told you it would be nonsense to have breakfast out on the piazza; and that he could not wait for you to walk to the station with him. You said that the cases were not at all parallel; and I replied hotly that that was very true, for those matters would have been to you only the comparative trifles of one short day, and would have made you only a little cross and uncomfortable; whereas to little Blue Eyes they were the all-absorbing desires of the hour, which, to a child in trouble, always looks as if it could never come to an end, and would never be followed by any thing better.
Blue Eyes cried herself to sleep, and slept heavily till late in the afternoon. When her father came home, you said that she must not have the red balloon, because she had been such a naughty girl. I have wondered many times since why she did not cry again, or look grieved when you said that, and laid the balloon away. After eleven o'clock at night, I went to look at her, and found her sobbing in her sleep, and tossing about. I groaned as I thought, "This is only one day, and there are three hundred and sixty-five in a year!" But I never recall the distorted face of that poor child, as, in her fearful passion, she told you she wished you were dead, without also remembering that even the gentle Christ said of him who should offend one of these little ones, "It were better for him that a mill-stone were hanged about his neck, and he were drowned in the depths of the sea!"
The Inhumanities of Parents—Rudeness.
/# "Inhumanity—Cruelty. Cruelty—The disposition to give unnecessary pain."—Webster's Dict. #/
I had intended to put third on the list of inhumanities of parents "needless requisitions;" but my last summer's observations changed my estimate, and convinced me that children suffer more pain from the rudeness with which they are treated than from being forced to do needless things which they dislike. Indeed, a positively and graciously courteous manner toward children is a thing so rarely seen in average daily life, the rudenesses which they receive are so innumerable, that it is hard to tell where to begin in setting forth the evil. Children themselves often bring their sharp and unexpected logic to bear on some incident illustrating the difference in this matter of behavior between what is required from them and what is shown to them: as did a little boy I knew, whose father said crossly to him one morning, as he came into the breakfast-room, "Will you ever learn to shut that door after you?" and a few seconds later, as the child was rather sulkily sitting down in his chair, "And do you mean to bid anybody 'good-morning,' or not?" "I don't think you gave me a very nice 'good-morning,' anyhow," replied satirical justice, aged seven. Then, of course, he was reproved for speaking disrespectfully; and so in the space of three minutes the beautiful opening of the new day, for both parents and children, was jarred and robbed of its fresh harmony by the father's thoughtless rudeness.
Was the breakfast-room door much more likely to be shut the next morning? No. The lesson was pushed aside by the pain, the motive to resolve was dulled by the antagonism. If that father had called his son, and, putting his arm round him, (oh! the blessed and magic virtue of putting your arm round a child's neck!) had said, "Good-morning, my little man;" and then, in a confidential whisper in his ear, "What shall we do to make this forgetful little boy remember not to leave that door open, through which the cold wind blows in on all of us?"—can any words measure the difference between the first treatment and the second? between the success of the one and the failure of the other?
Scores of times in a day, a child is told, in a short, authoritative way, to do or not to do such little things as we ask at the hands of older people, as favors, graciously, and with deference to their choice. "Would you be so very kind as to close that window?" "May I trouble you for that cricket?" "If you would be as comfortable in this chair as in that, I would like to change places with you." "Oh, excuse me, but your head is between me and the light: could you see as well if you moved a little?" "Would it hinder you too long to stop at the store for me? I would be very much obliged to you, if you would." "Pray, do not let me crowd you," &c. In most people's speech to children, we find, as synonyms for these polite phrases: "Shut that window down, this minute." "Bring me that cricket." "I want that chair; get up. You can sit in this." "Don't you see that you are right in my light? Move along." "I want you to leave off playing, and go right down to the store for me." "Don't crowd so. Can't you see that there is not room enough for two people here?" and so on. As I write, I feel an instinctive consciousness that these sentences will come like home-thrusts to some surprised people. I hope so. That is what I want. I am sure that in more than half the cases where family life is marred in peace, and almost stripped of beauty, by just these little rudenesses, the parents are utterly unconscious of them. The truth is, it has become like an established custom, this different and less courteous way of speaking to children on small occasions and minor matters. People who are generally civil and of fair kindliness do it habitually, not only to their own children, but to all children. We see it in the cars, in the stages, in stores, in Sunday schools, everywhere.
On the other hand, let a child ask for any thing without saying "please," receive any thing without saying "thank you," sit still in the most comfortable seat without offering to give it up, or press its own preference for a particular book, chair, or apple, to the inconveniencing of an elder, and what an outcry we have: "Such rudeness!" "Such an ill-mannered child!" "His parents must have neglected him strangely." Not at all: they have been steadily telling him a great many times every day not to do these precise things which you dislike. But they themselves have been all the while doing those very things to him; and there is no proverb which strikes a truer balance between two things than the old one which weighs example over against precept.
However, that it is bad policy to be rude to children is the least of the things to be said against it. Over this they will triumph, sooner or later. The average healthy child has a native bias towards gracious good behavior and kindly affections. He will win and be won in the long run, and, the chances are, have better manners than his father. But the pain that we give these blessed little ones when we wound their tenderness,—for that there is no atoning. Over that they can never triumph, either now or hereafter. Why do we dare to be so sure that they are not grieved by ungracious words and tones? that they can get used to being continually treated as if they were "in the way"? Who has not heard this said? I have, until I have longed for an Elijah and for fire, that the grown-up cumberers of the ground, who are the ones really in the way, might be burned up, to make room for the children. I believe that, if it were possible to count up in any one month, and show in the aggregate, all of this class of miseries borne by children, the world would cry out astonished. I know a little girl, ten years old, of nervous temperament, whose whole physical condition is disordered, and seriously, by her mother's habitual atmosphere of rude fault-finding. She is a sickly, fretful, unhappy, almost unbearable child. If she lives to grow up, she will be a sickly, fretful, unhappy, unlovely woman. But her mother is just as much responsible for the whole as if she had deranged her system by feeding her on poisonous drugs. Yet she is a most conscientious, devoted, and anxious mother, and, in spite of this manner, a loving one. She does not know that there is any better way than hers. She does not see that her child is mortified and harmed when she says to her, in the presence of strangers, "How do you suppose you look with your mouth open like that?" "Do you want me to show you how you are sitting?"—and then a grotesque imitation of her stooping shoulders. "Will you sit still for one minute?" "Do take your hands off my dress." "Was there ever such an awkward child?" When the child replies fretfully and disagreeably, she does not see that it is only an exact reflection of her own voice and manners. She does not understand any of the things that would make for her own peace, as well as for the child's. Matters grow worse, instead of better, as the child grows older and has more will; and the chances are that the poor little soul will be worried into her grave.
Probably most parents, even very kindly ones, would be a little startled at the assertion that a child ought never to be reproved in the presence of others. This is so constant an occurrence that nobody thinks of noticing it; nobody thinks of considering whether it be right and best, or not. But it is a great rudeness to a child. I am entirely sure that it ought never to be done. Mortification is a condition as unwholesome as it is uncomfortable. When the wound is inflicted by the hand of a parent, it is all the more certain to rankle and do harm. Let a child see that his mother is so anxious that he should have the approbation and good-will of her friends that she will not call their attention to his faults; and that, while she never, under any circumstances, allows herself to forget to tell him afterward, alone, if he has behaved improperly, she will spare him the additional pain and mortification of public reproof; and, while that child will lay these secret reproofs to heart, he will still be happy.
I know a mother who had the insight to see this, and the patience to make it a rule; for it takes far more patience, far more time, than the common method.
She said sometimes to her little boy, after visitors had left the parlor, "Now, dear, I am going to be your little girl, and you are to be my papa. And we will play that a gentleman has just come in to see you, and I will show you exactly how you have been behaving while this lady has been calling to see me. And you can see if you do not feel very sorry to have your little girl behave so."
Here is a dramatic representation at once which that boy does not need to see repeated many times before he is forever cured of interrupting, of pulling his mother's gown, of drumming on the piano, &c.,—of the thousand and one things which able-bodied children can do to make social visiting where they are a martyrdom and a penance.
Once I saw this same little boy behave so boisterously and rudely at the dinner-table, in the presence of guests, that I said to myself, "Surely, this time she will have to break her rule, and reprove him publicly." I saw several telegraphic signals of rebuke, entreaty, and warning flash from her gentle eyes to his; but nothing did any good. Nature was too much for him; he could not at that minute force himself to be quiet. Presently she said, in a perfectly easy and natural tone, "Oh, Charley, come here a minute; I want to tell you something." No one at the table supposed that it had any thing to do with his bad behavior. She did not intend that they should. As she whispered to him, I alone saw his cheek flush, and that he looked quickly and imploringly into her face; I alone saw that tears were almost in her eyes. But she shook her head, and he went back to his seat with a manful but very red little face. In a few moments he laid down his knife and fork, and said, "Mamma, will you please to excuse me?" "Certainly, my dear," said she. Nobody but I understood it, or observed that the little fellow had to run very fast to get out of the room without crying. Afterward she told me that she never sent a child away from the table in any other way. "But what would you do," said I, "if he were to refuse to ask to be excused?" Then the tears stood full in her eyes. "Do you think he could," she replied, "when he sees that I am only trying to save him from pain?" In the evening, Charley sat in my lap, and was very sober. At last he whispered to me, "I'll tell you an awful secret, if you won't tell. Did you think I had done my dinner this afternoon when I got excused? Well, I hadn't. Mamma made me, because I acted so. That's the way she always does. But I haven't had to have it done to me before for ever so long,—not since I was a little fellow" (he was eight now); "and I don't believe I ever shall again till I'm a man." Then he added, reflectively, "Mary brought me all the rest of my dinner upstairs; but I wouldn't touch it, only a little bit of the ice-cream. I don't think I deserved any at all; do you?"
I shall never, so long as I live, forget a lesson of this sort which my own mother once gave me. I was not more than seven years old; but I had a great susceptibility to color and shape in clothes, and an insatiable admiration for all people who came finely dressed. One day, my mother said to me, "Now I will play 'house' with you." Who does not remember when to "play house" was their chief of plays? And to whose later thought has it not occurred that in this mimic little show lay bound up the whole of life? My mother was the liveliest of playmates, she took the worst doll, the broken tea-set, the shabby furniture, and the least convenient corner of the room for her establishment. Social life became a round of festivities when she kept house as my opposite neighbor. At last, after the washing-day, and the baking-day, and the day when she took dinner with me, and the day when we took our children and walked out together, came the day for me to take my oldest child and go across to make a call at her house. Chill discomfort struck me on the very threshold of my visit. Where was the genial, laughing, talking lady who had been my friend up to that moment? There she sat, stock-still, dumb, staring first at my bonnet, then at my shawl, then at my gown, then at my feet; up and down, down and up, she scanned me, barely replying in monosyllables to my attempts at conversation; finally getting up, and coming nearer, and examining my clothes, and my child's still more closely. A very few minutes of this were more than I could bear; and, almost crying, I said, "Why, mamma, what makes you do so?" Then the play was over; and she was once more the wise and tender mother, telling me playfully that it was precisely in such a way I had stared, the day before, at the clothes of two ladies who had come in to visit her. I never needed that lesson again. To this day, if I find myself departing from it for an instant, the old tingling shame burns in my cheeks.
To this day, also, the old tingling pain burns my cheeks as I recall certain rude and contemptuous words which were said to me when I was very young, and stamped on my memory forever. I was once called a "stupid child" in the presence of strangers. I had brought the wrong book from my father's study. Nothing could be said to me to-day which would give me a tenth part of the hopeless sense of degradation which came from those words. Another time, on the arrival of an unexpected guest to dinner, I was sent, in a great hurry, away from the table, to make room, with the remark that "it was not of the least consequence about the child; she could just as well have her dinner afterward." "The child" would have been only too happy to help on the hospitality of the sudden emergency, if the thing had been differently put; but the sting of having it put in that way I never forgot. Yet in both these instances the rudeness was so small, in comparison with what we habitually see, that it would be too trivial to mention, except for the bearing of the fact that the pain it gave has lasted till now.
When we consider seriously what ought to be the nature of a reproof from a parent to a child, and what is its end, the answer is simple enough. It should be nothing but the superior wisdom and strength, explaining to inexperience and feebleness wherein they have made a mistake, to the end that they may avoid such mistakes in future. If personal annoyance, impatience, antagonism enter in, the relation is marred and the end endangered. Most sacred and inalienable of all rights is the right of helplessness to protection from the strong, of ignorance to counsel from the wise. If we give our protection and counsel grudgingly, or in a churlish, unkind manner, even to the stranger that is in our gates, we are no Christians, and deserve to be stripped of what little wisdom and strength we have hoarded. But there are no words to say what we are or what we deserve if we do thus to the little children whom we have dared, for our own pleasure, to bring into the perils of this life, and whose whole future may be blighted by the mistakes of our careless hands.
Breaking the Will.
This phrase is going out of use. It is high time it did. If the thing it represents would also cease, there would be stronger and freer men and women. But the phrase is still sometimes heard; and there are still conscientious fathers and mothers who believe they do God service in setting about the thing.
I have more than once said to a parent who used these words, "Will you tell me just what you mean by that? Of course you do not mean exactly what you say."
"Yes, I do. I mean that the child's will is to be once for all broken!—that he is to learn that my will is to be his law. The sooner he learns this the better."
"But is it to your will simply as will that he is to yield? Simply as the weaker yields to the stronger,—almost as matter yields to force? For what reason is he to do this?"
"Why, because I know what is best for him, and what is right; and he does not."
"Ah! that is a very different thing. He is, then, to do the thing that you tell him to do, because that thing is right and is needful for him; you are his guide on a road over which you have gone, and he has not; you are an interpreter, a helper; you know better than he does about all things, and your knowledge is to teach his ignorance."
"Certainly, that is what I mean. A pretty state of things it would be if children were to be allowed to think they know as much as their parents. There is no way except to break their wills in the beginning."
"But you have just said that it is not to your will as will that he is to yield, but to your superior knowledge and experience. That surely is not 'breaking his will.' It is of all things furthest removed from it. It is educating his will. It is teaching him how to will."
This sounds dangerous; but the logic is not easily turned aside, and there is little left for the advocate of will-breaking but to fall back on some texts in the Bible, which have been so often misquoted in this connection that one can hardly hear them with patience. To "Children, obey your parents," was added "in the Lord," and "because it is right," not "because they are your parents." "Spare the rod" has been quite gratuitously assumed to mean "spare blows." "Rod" means here, as elsewhere, simply punishment. We are not told to "train up a child" to have no will but our own, but "in the way in which he should go," and to the end that "when he is old" he should not "depart from it,"—i.e., that his will should be so educated that he will choose to walk in the right way still. Suppose a child's will to be actually "broken;" suppose him to be so trained that he has no will but to obey his parents. What is to become of this helpless machine, which has no central spring of independent action? Can we stand by, each minute of each hour of each day, and say to the automata, Go here, or Go there? Can we be sure of living as long as they live? Can we wind them up like seventy-year clocks, and leave them?
But this is idle. It is not, thank God, in the power of any man or any woman to "break" a child's "will." They may kill the child's body, in trying, like that still unhung clergyman in Western New York, who whipped his three-year-old son to death for refusing to repeat a prayer to his step-mother.
Bodies are frail things; there are more child-martyrs than will be known until the bodies terrestrial are done with.
But, by one escape or another, the will, the soul, goes free. Sooner or later, every human being comes to know and prove in his own estate that freedom of will is the only freedom for which there are no chains possible, and that in Nature's whole reign of law nothing is so largely provided for as liberty. Sooner or later, all this must come. But, if it comes later, it comes through clouds of antagonism, and after days of fight, and is hard-bought.
It should come sooner, like the kingdom of God, which it is,—"without observation," gracious as sunshine, sweet as dew; it should begin with the infant's first dawning of comprehension that there are two courses of action, two qualities of conduct: one wise, the other foolish; one right, the other wrong.
I am sure; for I have seen, that a child's moral perceptions can be so made clear, and his will so made strong and upright, that before he is ten years old he will see and take his way through all common days rightly and bravely.
Will he always act up to his highest moral perceptions? No. Do we? But one right decision that he makes voluntarily, unbiassed by the assertion of authority or the threat of punishment, is worth more to him in development of moral character than a thousand in which he simply does what he is compelled to do by some sort of outside pressure.
I read once, in a book intended for the guidance of mothers, a story of a little child who, in repeating his letters one day, suddenly refused to say A. All the other letters he repeated again and again, unhesitatingly; but A he would not, and persisted in declaring that he could not say. He was severely whipped, but still persisted. It now became a contest of wills. He was whipped again and again and again. In the intervals between the whippings the primer was presented to him, and he was told that he would be whipped again if he did not mind his mother and say A. I forget how many times he was whipped; but it was almost too many times to be believed. The fight was a terrible one. At last, in a paroxysm of his crying under the blows, the mother thought she heard him sob out "A," and the victory was considered to be won.
A little boy whom I know once had a similar contest over a letter of the alphabet; but the contest was with himself, and his mother was the faithful Great Heart who helped him through. The story is so remarkable that I have long wanted all mothers to know it. It is as perfect an illustration of what I mean by "educating" the will as the other one is of what is called "breaking" it.
Willy was about four years old. He had a large, active brain, sensitive temperament, and indomitable spirit. He was and is an uncommon child. Common methods of what is commonly supposed to be "discipline" would, if he had survived them, have made a very bad boy of him. He had great difficulty in pronouncing the letter G,—so much that he had formed almost a habit of omitting it. One day his mother said, not dreaming of any special contest, "This time you must say G." "It is an ugly old letter, and I ain't ever going to try to say it again," said Willy, repeating the alphabet very rapidly from beginning to end, without the G. Like a wise mother, she did not open at once on a struggle; but said, pleasantly, "Ah! you did not get it in that time. Try again; go more slowly, and we will have it." It was all in vain; and it soon began to look more like real obstinacy on Willy's part than any thing she had ever seen in him. She has often told me how she hesitated before entering on the campaign. "I always knew," she said, "that Willy's first real fight with himself would be no matter of a few hours; and it was a particularly inconvenient time for me, just then, to give up a day to it. But it seemed, on the whole, best not to put it off."
So she said, "Now, Willy, you can't get along without the letter G. The longer you put off saying it, the harder it will be for you to say it at last; and we will have it settled now, once for all. You are never going to let a little bit of a letter like that be stronger than Willy. We will not go out of this room till you have said it."
Unfortunately, Willy's will had already taken its stand. However, the mother made no authoritative demand that he should pronounce the letter as a matter of obedience to her. Because it was a thing intrinsically necessary for him to do, she would see, at any cost to herself or to him, that he did it; but he must do it voluntarily, and she would wait till he did.
The morning wore on. She busied herself with other matters, and left Willy to himself; now and then asking, with a smile, "Well, isn't my little boy stronger than that ugly old letter yet?"
Willy was sulky. He understood in that early stage all that was involved. Dinner-time came.
"Aren't you going to dinner, mamma?"
"Oh! no, dear; not unless you say G, so that you can go too. Mamma will stay by her little boy until he is out of this trouble."
The dinner was brought up, and they ate it together. She was cheerful and kind, but so serious that he felt the constant pressure of her pain.
The afternoon dragged slowly on to night. Willy cried now and then, and she took him in her lap, and said, "Dear, you will be happy as soon as you say that letter, and mamma will be happy too, and we can't either of us be happy until you do."
"Oh, mamma! why don't you make me say it?"
(This he said several times before the affair was over.)
"Because, dear, you must make yourself say it. I am helping you make yourself say it, for I shall not let you go out of this room, nor go out myself, till you do say it; but that is all I shall do to help you. I am listening, listening all the time, and if you say it, in ever so little a whisper, I shall hear you. That is all mamma can do for you."
Bed-time came. Willy went to bed, unkissed and sad. The next morning, when Willy's mother opened her eyes, she saw Willy sitting up in his crib, and looking at her steadfastly. As soon as he saw that she was awake, he exclaimed, "Mamma, I can't say it; and you know I can't say it. You're a naughty mamma, and you don't love me." Her heart sank within her; but she patiently went again and again over yesterday's ground. Willy cried. He ate very little breakfast. He stood at the window in a listless attitude of discouraged misery, which she said cut her to the heart. Once in a while he would ask for some plaything which he did not usually have. She gave him whatever he asked for; but he could not play. She kept up an appearance of being busy with her sewing, but she was far more unhappy than Willy.
Dinner was brought up to them. Willy said, "Mamma, this ain't a bit good dinner."
She replied, "Yes, it is, darling; just as good as we ever have. It is only because we are eating it alone. And poor papa is sad, too, taking his all alone downstairs."
At this Willy burst out into an hysterical fit of crying and sobbing.
"I shall never see my papa again in this world."
Then his mother broke down, too, and cried as hard as he did; but she said, "Oh! yes, you will, dear. I think you will say that letter before tea-time, and we will have a nice evening downstairs together."
"I can't say it. I try all the time, and I can't say it; and, if you keep me here till I die, I shan't ever say it."
The second night settled down dark and gloomy, and Willy cried himself to sleep. His mother was ill from anxiety and confinement; but she never faltered. She told me she resolved that night that, if it were necessary, she would stay in that room with Willy a month. The next morning she said to him, more seriously than before, "Now, Willy, you are not only a foolish little boy, you are unkind; you are making everybody unhappy. Mamma is very sorry for you, but she is also very much displeased with you. Mamma will stay here with you till you say that letter, if it is for the rest of your life; but mamma will not talk with you, as she did yesterday. She tried all day yesterday to help you, and you would not help yourself; to-day you must do it all alone."
"Mamma, are you sure I shall ever say it?" asked Willy.
"Yes, dear; perfectly sure. You will say it some day or other."
"Do you think I shall say it to-day?"
"I can't tell. You are not so strong a little boy as I thought. I believed you would say it yesterday. I am afraid you have some hard work before you."
Willy begged her to go down and leave him alone. Then he begged her to shut him up in the closet, and "see if that wouldn't make him good." Every few minutes he would come and stand before her, and say very earnestly, "Are you sure I shall say it?"
He looked very pale, almost as if he had had a fit of illness. No wonder. It was the whole battle of life fought at the age of four.
It was late in the afternoon of this the third day. Willy had been sitting in his little chair, looking steadily at the floor, for so long a time that his mother was almost frightened. But she hesitated to speak to him, for she felt that the crisis had come. Suddenly he sprang up, and walked toward her with all the deliberate firmness of a man in his whole bearing. She says there was something in his face which she has never seen since, and does not expect to see till he is thirty years old.
"Mamma!" said he.
"Well, dear?" said his mother, trembling so that she could hardly speak.
"Mamma," he repeated, in a loud, sharp tone, "G! G! G! G!" And then he burst into a fit of crying, which she had hard work to stop. It was over.
Willy is now ten years old. From that day to this his mother has never had a contest with him; she has always been able to leave all practical questions affecting his behavior to his own decision, merely saying, "Willy, I think this or that will be better."
His self-control and gentleness are wonderful to see; and the blending in his face of childlike simplicity and purity with manly strength is something which I have only once seen equalled.
For a few days he went about the house, shouting "G! G! G!" at the top of his voice. He was heard asking playmates if they could "say G," and "who showed them how." For several years he used often to allude to the affair, saying, "Do you remember, mamma, that dreadful time when I wouldn't say G?" He always used the verb "wouldn't" in speaking of it. Once, when he was sick, he said, "Mamma, do you think I could have said G any sooner than I did?"
"I have never felt certain about that, Willy," she said. "What do you think?"
"I think I could have said it a few minutes sooner. I was saying it to myself as long as that!" said Willy.
It was singular that, although up to that time he had never been able to pronounce the letter with any distinctness, when he first made up his mind in this instance to say it, he enunciated it with perfect clearness, and never again went back to the old, imperfect pronunciation.
Few mothers, perhaps, would be able to give up two whole days to such a battle as this; other children, other duties, would interfere. But the same principle could be carried out without the mother's remaining herself by the child's side all the time. Moreover, not one child in a thousand would hold out as Willy did. In all ordinary cases a few hours would suffice. And, after all, what would the sacrifice of even two days be, in comparison with the time saved in years to come? If there were no stronger motive than one of policy, of desire to take the course easiest to themselves, mothers might well resolve that their first aim should be to educate their children's wills and make them strong, instead of to conquer and "break" them.
The Reign of Archelaus.
Herod's massacre had, after all, a certain mercy in it: there were no lingering tortures. The slayers of children went about with naked and bloody swords, which mothers could see, and might at least make effort to flee from. Into Rachel's refusal to be comforted there need enter no bitter agonies of remorse. But Herod's death, it seems, did not make Judea a safe place for babies. When Joseph "heard that Archelaus did reign in the room of his father, Herod, he was afraid to return thither with the infant Jesus," and only after repeated commands and warnings from God would he venture as far as Nazareth. The reign of Archelaus is not yet over; he has had many names, and ruled over more and more countries, but the spirit of his father, Herod, is still in him. To-day his power is at its zenith. He is called Education; and the safest place for the dear, holy children is still Egypt, or some other of the fortunate countries called unenlightened.
Some years ago there were symptoms of a strong rebellion against his tyranny. Horace Mann lifted up his strong hands and voice against it; physicians and physiologists came out gravely and earnestly, and fortified their positions with statistics from which there was no appeal. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, whose words have with the light, graceful beauty of the Damascus blade its swift sureness in cleaving to the heart of things, wrote an article for the "Atlantic Monthly" called "The Murder of the Innocents," which we wish could be put into every house in the United States. Some changes in school organizations resulted from these protests; in the matter of ventilation of school-rooms some real improvement was probably effected; though we shudder to think how much room remains for further improvement, when we read in the report of the superintendent of public schools in Brooklyn that in the primary departments of the grammar schools "an average daily number of 33,275 pupils are crowded into one-half the space provided in the upper departments for an average daily attendance of 26,359; or compelled to occupy badly lighted, inconvenient, and ill-ventilated galleries, or rooms in the basement stories."
But in regard to the number of hours of confinement, and amount of study required of children, it is hard to believe that schools have ever been much more murderously exacting than now.
The substitution of the single session of five hours for the old arrangement of two sessions of three hours each, with a two-hours interval at noon, was regarded as a great gain. So it would be, if all the brain-work of the day were done in that time; but in most schools with the five-hours session, there is next to no provision for studying in school-hours, and the pupils are required to learn two, three, or four lessons at home. Now, when is your boy to learn these lessons? Not in the morning, before school; that is plain. School ends at two. Few children live sufficiently near their schools to get home to dinner before half past two o'clock. We say nothing of the undesirableness of taking the hearty meal of the day immediately after five hours of mental fatigue; it is probably a less evil than the late dinner at six, and we are in a region where we are grateful for less evils! Dinner is over at quarter past three; we make close estimates. In winter there is left less than two hours before dark. This is all the time the child is to have for out-door play; two hours and a half (counting in his recess) out of twenty-four. Ask any farmer, even the stupidest, how well his colt or his lamb would grow if it had but two hours a day of absolute freedom and exercise in the open air, and that in the dark and the chill of a late afternoon! In spite of the dark and the chill, however, your boy skates or slides on until he is called in by you, who, if you are an American mother, care a great deal more than he does for the bad marks which will stand on his week's report if those three lessons are not learned before bed-time. He is tired and cold; he does not want to study—who would? It is six o'clock before he is fairly at it. You work harder than he does, and in half an hour one lesson is learned; then comes tea. After tea half an hour, or perhaps an hour, remains before bed-time; in this time, which ought to be spent in light, cheerful talk or play, the rest of the lessons must be learned. He is sleepy and discouraged. Words which in the freshness of the morning he would have learned in a very few moments with ease, it is now simply out of his power to commit to memory. You, if you are not superhuman, grow impatient. At eight o'clock he goes to bed, his brain excited and wearied, in no condition for healthful sleep; and his heart oppressed with the fear of "missing" in the next day's recitations. And this is one out of the school-year's two hundred and sixteen days—all of which will be like this, or worse. One of the most pitiful sights we have seen for months was a little group of four dear children, gathered round the library lamp, trying to learn the next day's lessons in time to have a story read to them before going to bed. They had taken the precaution to learn one lesson immediately after dinner, before going out, cutting their out-door play down by half an hour. The two elder were learning a long spelling-lesson; the third was grappling with geographical definitions of capes, promontories, and so forth; and the youngest was at work on his primer. In spite of all their efforts, bed-time came before the lessons were learned. The little geography student had been nodding over her book for some minutes, and she had the philosophy to say, "I don't care; I'm so sleepy. I had rather go to bed than hear any kind of a story." But the elder ones were grieved and unhappy, and said, "There won't ever be any time; we shall have just as much more to learn to-morrow night." The next morning, however, there was a sight still more pitiful: the baby of seven, with a little bit of paper and a pencil, and three sums in addition to be done, and the father vainly endeavoring, to explain them to him in the hurried moments before breakfast. It would be easy to show how fatal to all real mental development, how false to all Nature's laws of growth, such a system must be; but that belongs to another side of the question. We speak now simply of the effect of it on the body; and here we quote largely from the admirable article of Col. Higginson's, above referred to. No stronger, more direct, more conclusive words can be written:—
"Sir Walter Scott, according to Carlyle, was the only perfectly healthy literary man who ever lived. He gave it as his deliberate opinion, in conversation with Basil Hall, that five and a half hours form the limit of healthful mental labor for a mature person. 'This I reckon very good work for a man,' he said. 'I can very seldom work six hours a day.' Supposing his estimate to be correct, and five and a half hours the reasonable limit for the day's work of a mature intellect, it is evident that even this must be altogether too much for an immature one. 'To suppose the youthful brain,' says the recent admirable report, by Dr. Ray, of the Providence Insane Hospital, 'to be capable of an amount of work which is considered an ample allowance to an adult brain is simply absurd.' 'It would be wrong, therefore, to deduct less than a half-hour from Scott's estimate, for even the oldest pupils in our highest schools, leaving five hours as the limit of real mental effort for them, and reducing this for all younger pupils very much further.'
"But Scott is not the only authority in the case; let us ask the physiologists. So said Horace Mann before us, in the days when the Massachusetts school system was in process of formation. He asked the physicians in 1840, and in his report printed the answers of three of the most eminent. The late Dr. Woodward, of Worcester, promptly said that children under eight should never be confined more than one hour at a time, nor more than four hours a day.
"Dr. James Jackson, of Boston, allowed the children four hours schooling in winter and five in summer, but only one hour at a time; and heartily expressed his detestation of giving young children lessons to learn at home.
"Dr. S.G. Howe, reasoning elaborately on the whole subject, said that children under eight years of age should never be confined more than half an hour at a time; by following which rule, with long recesses, they can study four hours daily. Children between eight and fourteen should not be confined more than three-quarters of an hour at a time, having the last quarter of each hour for exercise on the play-ground.
"Indeed, the one thing about which doctors do not disagree is the destructive effect of premature or excessive mental labor. I can quote you medical authority for and against every maxim of dietetics beyond the very simplest; but I defy you to find one man who ever begged, borrowed, or stole the title of M.D., and yet abused those two honorary letters by asserting under their cover that a child could safely study as much as a man, or that a man could safely study more than six hours a day."
"The worst danger of it is that the moral is written at the end of the fable, not at the beginning. The organization in youth is so dangerously elastic that the result of these intellectual excesses is not seen until years after. When some young girl incurs spinal disease from some slight fall, which she ought not to have felt for an hour, or some business man breaks down in the prime of his years from some trifling over-anxiety, which should have left no trace behind, the popular verdict may be 'Mysterious Providence;' but the wiser observer sees the retribution for the folly of those misspent days which enfeebled the childish constitution instead of ripening it. One of the most striking passages in the report of Dr. Ray, before mentioned, is that in which he explains that, 'though study at school is rarely the immediate cause of insanity, it is the most frequent of its ulterior causes, except hereditary tendencies.' It diminishes the conservative power of the animal economy to such a degree that attacks of disease which otherwise would have passed off safely destroy life almost before danger is anticipated."
It would be easy to multiply authorities on these points. It is hard to stop. But our limits forbid any thing like a full treatment of the subject. Yet discussion on this question ought never to cease in the land until a reform is brought about. Teachers are to blame only in part for the present wrong state of things. They are to blame for yielding, for acquiescing; but the real blame rests on parents. Here and there, individual fathers and mothers, taught, perhaps, by heart-rending experience, try to make stand against the current of false ambitions and unhealthy standards. But these are rare exceptions. Parents, as a class, not only help on, but create the pressure to which teachers yield, and children are sacrificed. The whole responsibility is really theirs. They have in their hands the power to regulate the whole school routine to which their children are to be subjected. This is plain, when we once consider what would be the immediate effect in any community, large or small, if a majority of parents took action together, and persistently refused to allow any child under fourteen to be confined in school more than four hours out of the twenty-four, more than one hour at a time, or to do more than five hours' brain-work in a day. The law of supply and demand is a first principle. In three months the schools in that community would be entirely reorganized, to accord with the parents' wishes; in three years the improved average health of the children in that community would bear its own witness in ruddy bloom along the streets; and perhaps even in one generation so great gain of vigor might be made that the melancholy statistics of burial would no longer have to record the death under twelve years of age of more than two-fifths of the children who are born.
The Awkward Age.
The expression defines itself. At the first sound of the words, we all think of some one unhappy soul we know just now, whom they suggest. Nobody is ever without at least one brother, sister, cousin, or friend on hand, who is struggling through this social slough of despond; and nobody ever will be, so long as the world goes on taking it for granted that the slough is a necessity, and that the road must go through it. Nature never meant any such thing. Now and then she blunders or gets thwarted of her intent, and turns out a person who is awkward, hopelessly and forever awkward; body and soul are clumsy together, and it is hard to fancy them translated to the spiritual world without too much elbow and ankle. However, these are rare cases, and come in under the law of variation. But an awkward age,—a necessary crisis or stage of uncouthness, through which all human beings must pass,—Nature was incapable of such a conception; law has no place for it; development does not know it; instinct revolts from it; and man is the only animal who has been silly and wrong-headed enough to stumble into it. The explanation and the remedy are so simple, so close at hand, that we have not seen them. The whole thing lies in a nutshell. Where does this abnormal, uncomfortable period come in? Between childhood, we say, and maturity; it is the transition from one to the other. When human beings, then, are neither boys nor men, girls nor women, they must be for a few years anomalous creatures, must they? We might, perhaps, find a name for the individual in this condition as well as for the condition. We must look to Du Chaillu for it, if we do; but it is too serious a distress to make light of, even for a moment. We have all felt it, and we know how it feels; we all see it every day, and we know how it looks.
What is it which the child has and the adult loses, from the loss of which comes this total change of behavior? Or is it something which the adult has and the child had not? It is both; and until the loss and the gain, the new and the old, are permanently separated and balanced, the awkward age lasts. The child was overlooked, contradicted, thwarted, snubbed, insulted, whipped; not constantly, not often,—in many cases, thank God, very seldom. But the liability was there, and he knew it; he never forgot it, if you did. One burn is enough to make fire dreaded. The adult, once fairly recognized as adult, is not overlooked, contradicted, thwarted, snubbed, insulted, whipped; at least, not with impunity. To this gratifying freedom, these comfortable exemptions, when they are once established in our belief, we adjust ourselves, and grow contentedly good-mannered. To the other regime, while we were yet children, we also somewhat adjusted ourselves, were tolerably well behaved, and made the best of it. But who could bear a mixture of both? What genius could rise superior to it, could be itself, surrounded by such uncertainties?
No wonder that your son comes into the room with a confused expression of uncomfortable pain on every feature, when he does not in the least know whether he will be recognized as a gentleman, or overlooked as a little boy. No wonder he sits down in his chair with movements suggestive of nothing but rheumatism and jack-knives, when he is thinking that perhaps there may be some reason why he should not take that particular chair, and that, if there is, he will be ordered up.
No wonder that your tall daughter turns red, stammers, and says foolish things on being courteously spoken to by strangers at dinner, when she is afraid that she may be sharply contradicted or interrupted, and remembers that day before yesterday she was told that children should be seen and not heard.
I knew a very clever girl, who had the misfortune to look at fourteen as if she were twenty. At home, she was the shyest and most awkward of creatures; away from her mother and sisters, she was self-possessed and charming. She said to me, once, "Oh! I have such a splendid time away from home. I'm so tall, everybody thinks I am grown up, and everybody is civil to me."
I know, also, a man of superb physique, charming temperament, and uncommon talent, who is to this day—and he is twenty-five years old—nervous and ill at ease in talking with strangers, in the presence of his own family. He hesitates, stammers, and never does justice to his thoughts. He says that he believes he shall never be free from this distress; he cannot escape from the recollections of the years between fourteen and twenty, during which he was so systematically snubbed that his mother's parlor was to him worse than the chambers of the Inquisition. He knows that he is now sure of courteous treatment; that his friends are all proud of him; but the old cloud will never entirely disappear. Something has been lost which can never be regained. And the loss is not his alone, it is theirs too; they are all poorer for life, by reason of the unkind days which are gone.
This, then, is the explanation of the awkward age. I am not afraid of any dissent from my definition of the source whence its misery springs. Everybody's consciousness bears witness. Everybody knows, in the bottom of his heart, that, however much may be said about the change of voice, the thinness of cheeks, the sharpness of arms, the sudden length in legs and lack of length in trousers and frocks,—all these had nothing to do with the real misery. The real misery was simply and solely the horrible feeling of not belonging anywhere; not knowing what a moment might bring forth in the way of treatment from others; never being sure which impulse it would be safer to follow, to retreat or to advance, to speak or to be silent, and often overwhelmed with unspeakable mortification at the rebuff of the one or the censure of the other. Oh! how dreadful it all was! How dreadful it all is, even to remember! It would be malicious even to refer to it, except to point out the cure.
The cure is plain. It needs no experiment to test it. Merely to mention it ought to be enough. If human beings are so awkward at this unhappy age, and so unhappy at this awkward age, simply because they do not know whether they are to be treated as children or as adults, suppose we make a rule that children are always to be treated, in point of courtesy, as if they were adults? Then this awkward age—this period of transition from an atmosphere of, to say the least, negative rudeness to one of gracious politeness—disappears. There cannot be a crisis of readjustment of social relations: there is no possibility of such a feeling; it would be hard to explain to a young person what it meant. Now and then we see a young man or young woman who has never known it. They are usually only children, and are commonly spoken of as wonders. I know such a boy to-day. At seventeen he measures six feet in height; he has the feet and the hands of a still larger man; and he comes of a blood which had far more strength than grace. But his manner is, and always has been, sweet, gentle, composed,—the very ideal of grave, tender, frank young manhood. People say, "How strange! He never seemed to have any awkward age at all." It would have been stranger if he had. Neither his father nor his mother ever departed for an instant, in their relations with him, from the laws of courtesy and kindliness of demeanor which governed their relations with others.
He knew but one atmosphere, and that a genial one, from his babyhood up; and in and of this atmosphere has grown up a sweet, strong, pure soul, for which the quiet, self-possessed manner is but the fitting garb.
This is part of the kingdom that cometh unobserved. In this kingdom we are all to be kings and priests, if we choose; and all its ways are pleasantness. But we are not ready for it till we have become peaceable and easy to be entreated, and have learned to understand why it was that one day, when Jesus called his disciples together, he set a little child in their midst.
A Day with a Courteous Mother.
During the whole of one of last summer's hottest days I had the good fortune to be seated in a railway car near a mother and four children, whose relations with each other were so beautiful that the pleasure of watching them was quite enough to make one forget the discomforts of the journey.
It was plain that they were poor; their clothes were coarse and old, and had been made by inexperienced hands. The mother's bonnet alone would have been enough to have condemned the whole party on any of the world's thoroughfares. I remembered afterward, with shame, that I myself had smiled at the first sight of its antiquated ugliness; but her face was one which it gave you a sense of rest to look upon,—it was so earnest, tender, true, and strong. It had little comeliness of shape or color in it, it was thin, and pale; she was not young; she had worked hard; she had evidently been much ill; but I have seen few faces which gave me such pleasure. I think that she was the wife of a poor clergyman; and I think that clergyman must be one of the Lord's best watchmen of souls. The children—two boys and two girls—were all under the age of twelve, and the youngest could not speak plainly. They had had a rare treat; they had been visiting the mountains, and they were talking over all the wonders they had seen with a glow of enthusiastic delight which was to be envied. Only a word-for-word record would do justice to their conversation; no description could give any idea of it,—so free, so pleasant, so genial, no interruptions, no contradictions; and the mother's part borne all the while with such equal interest and eagerness that no one not seeing her face would dream that she was any other than an elder sister. In the course of the day there were many occasions when it was necessary for her to deny requests, and to ask services, especially from the eldest boy; but no young girl, anxious to please a lover, could have done either with a more tender courtesy. She had her reward; for no lover could have been more tender and manly than was this boy of twelve. Their lunch was simple and scanty; but it had the grace of a royal banquet. At the last, the mother produced with much glee three apples and an orange, of which the children had not known. All eyes fastened on the orange. It was evidently a great rarity. I watched to see if this test would bring out selfishness. There was a little silence; just the shade of a cloud. The mother said, "How shall I divide this? There is one for each of you; and I shall be best off of all, for I expect big tastes from each of you."
"Oh, give Annie the orange. Annie loves oranges," spoke out the oldest boy, with a sudden air of a conqueror, and at the same time taking the smallest and worst apple himself.
"Oh, yes, let Annie have the orange," echoed the second boy, nine years old.
"Yes, Annie may have the orange, because that is nicer than the apple, and she is a lady, and her brothers are gentlemen," said the mother, quietly. Then there was a merry contest as to who should feed the mother with largest and most frequent mouthfuls; and so the feast went on. Then Annie pretended to want apple, and exchanged thin golden strips of orange for bites out of the cheeks of Baldwins; and, as I sat watching her intently, she suddenly fancied she saw longing in my face, and sprang over to me, holding out a quarter of her orange, and saying, "Don't you want a taste, too?" The mother smiled, understandingly, when I said, "No, I thank you, you dear, generous little girl; I don't care about oranges."
At noon we had a tedious interval of waiting at a dreary station. We sat for two hours on a narrow platform, which the sun had scorched till it smelt of heat. The oldest boy—the little lover—held the youngest child, and talked to her, while the tired mother closed her eyes and rested. Now and then he looked over at her, and then back at the baby; and at last he said confidentially to me (for we had become fast friends by this time), "Isn't it funny, to think that I was ever so small as this baby? And papa says that then mamma was almost a little girl herself."
The two other children were toiling up and down the banks of the railroad-track, picking ox-eye daisies, buttercups, and sorrel. They worked like beavers, and soon the bunches were almost too big for their little hands. Then they came running to give them to their mother. "Oh dear," thought I, "how that poor, tired woman will hate to open her eyes! and she never can take those great bunches of common, fading flowers, in addition to all her bundles and bags." I was mistaken.
"Oh, thank you, my darlings! How kind you were! Poor, hot, tired little flowers, how thirsty they look! If they will only try and keep alive till we get home, we will make them very happy in some water; won't we? And you shall put one bunch by papa's plate, and one by mine."
Sweet and happy, the weary and flushed little children stood looking up in her face while she talked, their hearts thrilling with compassion for the drooping flowers and with delight in the giving of their gift. Then she took great trouble to get a string and tie up the flowers, and then the train came, and we were whirling along again. Soon it grew dark, and little Annie's head nodded. Then I heard the mother say to the oldest boy, "Dear, are you too tired to let little Annie put her head on your shoulder and take a nap? We shall get her home in much better case to see papa if we can manage to give her a little sleep." How many boys of twelve hear such words as these from tired, overburdened mothers?
Soon came the city, the final station, with its bustle and noise. I lingered to watch my happy family, hoping to see the father. "Why, papa isn't here!" exclaimed one disappointed little voice after another. "Never mind," said the mother, with a still deeper disappointment in her own tone; "perhaps he had to go to see some poor body who is sick." In the hurry of picking up all the parcels, and the sleepy babies, the poor daisies and buttercups were left forgotten in a corner of the rack. I wondered if the mother had not intended this. May I be forgiven for the injustice! A few minutes after I passed the little group, standing still just outside the station, and heard the mother say, "Oh, my darlings, I have forgotten your pretty bouquets. I am so sorry! I wonder if I could find them if I went back. Will you all stand still and not stir from this spot if I go?"
"Oh, mamma, don't go, don't go. We will get you some more. Don't go," cried all the children.
"Here are your flowers, madam," said I. "I saw that you had forgotten them, and I took them as mementoes of you and your sweet children." She blushed and looked disconcerted. She was evidently unused to people, and shy with all but her children. However, she thanked me sweetly, and said,—
"I was very sorry about them. The children took such trouble to get them; and I think they will revive in water. They cannot be quite dead."
"They will never die!" said I, with an emphasis which went from my heart to hers. Then all her shyness fled. She knew me; and we shook hands, and smiled into each other's eyes with the smile of kindred as we parted.
As I followed on, I heard the two children, who were walking behind, saying to each other, "Wouldn't that have been too bad? Mamma liked them so much, and we never could have got so many all at once again."
"Yes, we could, too, next summer," said the boy, sturdily.
They are sure of their "next summers," I think, all six of those souls,—children, and mother, and father. They may never again gather so many ox-eye daisies and buttercups "all at once." Perhaps some of the little hands have already picked their last flowers. Nevertheless, their summers are certain. To such souls as these, all trees, either here or in God's larger country, are Trees of Life, with twelve manner of fruits and leaves for healing; and it is but little change from the summers here, whose suns burn and make weary, to the summers there, of which "the Lamb is the light."
Heaven bless them all, wherever they are.
Children in Nova Scotia.
Nova Scotia is a country of gracious surprises. Instead of the stones which are what strangers chiefly expect at her hands, she gives us a wealth of fertile meadows; instead of stormy waves breaking on a frowning coast, she shows us smooth basins whose shores are soft and wooded to the water's edge, and into which empty wonderful tidal rivers, whose courses, where the tide-water has flowed out, lie like curving bands of bright brown satin among the green fields. She has no barrenness, no unsightliness, no poverty; everywhere beauty, everywhere riches. She is biding her time.
But most beautiful among her beauties, most wonderful among her wonders, are her children. During two weeks' travel in the provinces, I have been constantly more and more impressed by their superiority in appearance, size, and health to the children of the New England and Middle States. In the outset of our journey I was struck by it; along all the roadsides they looked up, boys and girls, fair, broad-cheeked, sturdy-legged, such as with us are seen only now and then. I did not, however, realize at first that this was the universal law of the land, and that it pointed to something more than climate as a cause. But the first school that I saw, en masse, gave a startling impetus to the train of observation and inference into which I was unconsciously falling. It was a Sunday school in the little town of Wolfville, which lies between the Gaspcreau and Cornwallis rivers, just beyond the meadows of the Grand Pre, where lived Gabriel Lajeunesse, and Benedict Bellefontaine, and the rest of the "simple Acadian farmers."
"Mists from the mighty Atlantic" more than "looked on the happy valley" that Sunday morning. Convicting Longfellow of a mistake, they did descend "from their stations," on solemn Blomidon, and fell in a slow, unpleasant drizzle in the streets of Wolfville and Horton. I arrived too early at one of the village churches, and while I was waiting for a sexton a door opened, and out poured the Sunday school, whose services had just ended. On they came, dividing in the centre, and falling to the right and left about me, thirty or forty boys and girls, between the ages of seven and fifteen. I looked at them in astonishment. They all had fair skins, red cheeks, and clear eyes; they were all broad-shouldered, straight, and sturdy; the younger ones were more than sturdy,—they were fat, from the ankles up. But perhaps the most noticeable thing of all was the quiet, sturdy, unharassed expression which their faces wore; a look which is the greatest charm of a child's face, but which we rarely see in children over two or three years old. Boys of eleven or twelve were there, with shoulders broader than the average of our boys at sixteen, and yet with the pure, childlike look on their faces. Girls of ten or eleven were there who looked almost like women,—that is, like ideal women,—simply because they looked so calm and undisturbed. The Saxon coloring prevailed; three-fourths of the eyes were blue, with hair of that pale ash-brown which the French call "blonde cendree" Out of them all there was but one child who looked sickly. He had evidently met with some accident, and was lame. Afterward, as the congregation assembled, I watched the fathers and mothers of these children. They, too, were broad-shouldered, tall, and straight, especially the women. Even old women were straight, like the negroes one sees at the South, walking with burdens on their heads.
Five days later I saw in Halifax the celebration of the anniversary of the settlement of the province. The children of the city and of some of the neighboring towns marched in "bands of hope" and processions, such as we see in the cities of the States on the Fourth of July. This was just the opportunity I wanted. It was the same here as in the country. I counted on that day just eleven sickly-looking children; no more! Such brilliant cheeks, such merry eyes, such evident strength; it was a scene to kindle the dullest soul. There were scores of little ones there, whose droll, fat legs would have drawn a crowd in Central Park; and they all had that same, quiet, composed, well-balanced expression of countenance of which I spoke before, and of which it would be hard to find an instance in all Central Park.
Climate undoubtedly has something to do with this. The air is moist, and the mercury rarely rises above 80 deg. or falls below 10 deg.. Also the comparative quiet of their lives helps to make them so beautiful and strong. But the most significant fact to my mind is that, until the past year, there have been in Nova Scotia no public schools, comparatively few private ones; and in these there is no severe pressure brought to bear on the pupils. The private schools have been expensive, consequently it has been very unusual for children to be sent to school before they were eight or nine years of age; I could not find a person who had ever known of a child's being sent to school under seven! The school sessions are on the old plan of six hours per day,—from nine till twelve, and from one till four; but no learning of lessons out of school has been allowed. Within the last year a system of free public schools has been introduced, "and the people are grumbling terribly about it," said my informant. "Why?" I asked; "because they do not wish to have their children educated?" "Oh, no," said he; "because they do not like to pay the taxes!" "Alas!" I thought, "if it were only their silver which would be taxed!"