THE INFANT SYSTEM,
DEVELOPING THE INTELLECTUAL AND MORAL POWERS OF ALL CHILDREN,
FROM ONE TO SEVEN YEARS OF AGE
BY SAMUEL WILDERSPIN, INVENTOR OF THE SYSTEM OF INFANT TRAINING.
"Whoso shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me." Matt. xviii. 5.
"Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones." Matt. xvii. 10.
EIGHTH EDITION, CAREFULLY REVISED.
In again presenting this volume to the world, I trust I feel thankful to God for the favour with which the Infant System has been received, and for all the aid I have enjoyed in my course of labour. Had the measures I originated for the development of the infant mind, and the improvement of the moral character, been sanctioned at first, as many now think they should have been, their progress would, undoubtedly, have been far greater; but when I consider what has been accomplished under the divine benediction, and amid greater difficulties than ever beset the path of an individual similarly occupied, I know not how to express the gratitude of which I am conscious. It seems proper and even necessary to remark, that the system explained in this volume, is the result of many years of labour. Thousands of children have been attentively observed, and for the necessities that arose in their instruction, provision has been made. Others have doubtless reached some of the conclusions at which I have arrived, but this is only another instance of the coincidence in judgment and effort, often discoverable in persons far apart, whose attention has been directed to similiar subjects; but with the exception of the elliptical plan, devised by Dr. Gilchrist, I am not aware that I owe an idea or contrivance to any individual whatever. Upwards of twenty-five thousand children have been now under my own care, in various parts of the United Kingdom, whose age has not exceeded six years; myself, my daughters, and my agents, have organized many score of schools, and thus I have had opportunities of studying the infant mind and heart, such as none of my contemporaries have ever possessed.
Still I am aware I have much to learn. I am far less satisfied with the extent of my knowledge, and far less confident of its perfection and completeness now than I was in the earlier part of my course. The whole energies of my mind, however, having been thrown upon the subject, and the whole of my time for the third of a century having been zealously devoted to it, I trust the volume will contain knowledge of a more plain, simple, and practical character than is elsewhere to be found:—perhaps it may not be presumption to say than can elsewhere be found. Should I have the pleasure to labour for years to come, I trust I shall have much more to communicate on the subject.
Two editions of this work in its former state have been printed in German; and it has also been reprinted in America. I have, however, felt it due to the friends of education, to make this volume as complete as possible, and though still occasionally engaged in superintending and organizing schools, I have felt it necessary to revise this eighth edition very carefully throughout, and commence it with a new and additional chapter.
Moor Cottage, Westgate Common, Wakefield, Nov. 1552.
A FEW TESTIMONIALS TO THE INFANT SYSTEM.
It is said that we are aiming at carrying education too far; that we are drawing it out to an extravagant length, and that, not satisfied with dispensing education to children also have attained what in former times was thought a proper age, we are now anxious to educate mere infants, incapable of receiving benefit from such instruction. This objection may be answered in two ways. In the first place, it should be observed, that the objection comes from those very persons who object to education being given to children when they arrive at a more advanced period, on the ground that their parents then begin to find them useful in labour, and consequently cannot spare so much of their time as might be requisite: surely, that, the education of the children should commence at that time when their labour can be of value to their parents. But the other answer, in my opinion, is still more decisive: it is found even at the early age of seven or eight, that children are not void of those propensities, which are the forerunners of vice, and I can give no better illustration of this, than the fact of a child only eight years old, being convicted of a capital offence at our tribunals of justice; when, therefore, I find that at this early period of life, these habits of vice are formed, it seems to me that we ought to begin still earlier to store their minds with such tastes, and to instruct them in such a manner as to exclude the admission of those practises that lead to such early crime and depravity. A Noble friend has most justly stated, that it is not with the experiences of yesterday that we come armed to the contest: it is not a speculation that we are bringing forward to your notice, but an experiment.'—The Lord Chancellor.
"In leaving poor children to the care of their parents, neglect is the least that happens; it too frequently occurs that they are turned over to delegates, where they meet with the worst treatment; so that we do not in fact come so much into contact with the parents themselves as with those delegates, who are so utterly unfit for the office they undertake. Infant Schools, however, have completely succeeded, not only in the negative plan they had in view, of keeping the children out of vice and mischief, but even to the extent of engrafting in their minds at an early age those principles of virtue, which capacitated them for receiving a further stage of instruction at a more advanced school, and finally, as they approached manhood, to be ripened into the noblest sentiments of probity and integrity."—The Marquis of Lansdowne.
"I am a zealous friend, upon conviction, to Infant Schools for the children of the poor. No person who has not himself watched them, can form an adequate action of what these institutions, when judiciously conducted, may effect in forming the tempers and habits of young children; in giving them, not so much actual knowledge, as that which at their age is more important, the habit and faculty of acquiring it; and it correcting those moral defects which neglect or injudicious treatment would soon confirm and render incurable. The early age at which children are taken out of our National Schools, is an additional reason for commencing a regular and systematic discipline of their minds and wills, as soon as they are capable of profiting by it; and that is at the very earliest opening of the understanding, and at the first manifestation of a corrupt nature in the shape of a childish petulance and waywardness."—The Bishop of London.
"The claims of this Institution were of such a nature, that they required no recommendation but a full statement of them. The foundation of its happy results had been pointed out to exist in the principles of policy, and of religion paramount to all policy—a religion that appealed to every feeling of human nature. He would recommend this charity, as one less attended with perplexity in its operations or doubt as to its utility, than many, which, though established with the best possible motives, frequently failed in effecting the good proposed; but in this the most acute opponent could not discover any mischief that would arise from its success."—Sir James Mackintosh.
"I have always thought that that man that would be the greatest benefactor to his country who did most for the suppression of crime; this I am sorry to say, our legislature have neglected in a great degree, while they have readily employed themselves in providing for its punishment. Those acquainted with our prisons must know that those found to have sunk deepest into vice and crime were persons who had never received any education, moral or religious. In the Refuge for the Destitute, an exact account was kept, and it was found that of the great mass of culprits sent there by the magistrates on account of their youth, two-thirds were the children of parents who had no opportunity of educating them. By this institution they would at once promote virtue and prevent vice."—Dr. Lushington.
"The real fact is, that the character of all mankind is formed very early—much earlier than might be supposed: at the age of two or three years, dispositions were found in children of a description the most objectionable. In these schools the principles of mutual kindness and assistance were carried as far as could well be conceived, and it was most delightful to regard the conduct of the children towards each other. Instead of opposition, they displayed mutual good-will, inculcated to the greatest degree, so as to destroy in the minds of the children that selfishness which was the bane of our nature. Such effects appeared almost to realize the golden age, for the children appeared always happy, and never so happy as when attending the schools."—W. Smith, Esq. M.P.
"I feel, having witnessed the happy effects produced by these schools, a warm zeal in support of such institutions. We cannot begin too soon to impress religions principles on the minds of the young; it is an affecting consideration, that while great statesmen have been busied in their closets on some fine scheme or speculation, they have neglected these salutary principles which the Almighty has given to mankind. It is remarkable how eagerly the young mind receives the histories of the Bible, and how well they are fitted to work on their dispositions; and when I consider the miserable state of the poor, I cannot but feel that the rich are in some degree, the authors of it, in having neglected to afford them the means of education."—W. Wilberforce, Esq.
"I am much delighted with what I have seen and heard. I confess I entertained doubts of the practicability of the Infant School System, but these doubts have this day been removed. If in one month so much can be done, what might not be expected from further training? I now doubt no longer, and anticipate from the extension of such schools a vast improvement in the morals and religion of the humble classes. I conclude with moving a vote of thanks to Mr. Wilderspin."—Lord Chief Justice Clerk.
"Sir John Sinclair, rose, and in addressing Mr. Wilderspin, said, that he was astonished with the results of five weeks training in these perfect infants. He had never seen a greater prodigy. He too had had his prejudices—his doubts of the possibility of infant education; but these doubts had now vanished, and for ever. The arrangements for bodily exercise, connected with mental and moral improvement, especially delighted him. He was amused as well as instructed by the well-applied admixture of diverting expedients to keep the children alive and alert. It was 'seria mixta jocis,' but there was practical sense in the seemingly most frivolous part of the plan. He trusted that the time was not far distant when there should be many such institutions. He called on all present to join him in returning cordial thanks to Mr. Wilderspin."—Scotsman.
"The grand secret of the improvement found to be derived from these establishments, is their constant tendency to remove evil example and misery from the little creatures during almost the whole of their waking hours. Consider how a child belonging to one of these passes his day. As soon as he is up, the indispensable condition, and the only one of his admission to the school, that of clean face and hands, is enforced, and the mother, in order to be relieved of the care of him during the, day, is obliged to have him washed. He then leaves the abode of filth and intemperance, and squalid poverty, and ill-temper, for a clean, airy place, pleasant in summer, warm and dry in winter; and where he sees not a face that is not lighted up with the smile of kindness towards him. His whole day is passed in amusing exercises, or interesting instruction; and he returns at evening-tide fatigued and ready for his bed, so that the scenes passing at his comfortless home make a slight impression on his mind or on his spirits."—Edinburgh Review.
RETROSPECT OF MY CAREER.
Days and scenes of childhood—Parental care—Power of early impressions—School experience—Commencements in business—Sunday school teaching and its results—Experiment on a large scale—Development of means and invention of implements—Heavy bereavement—Propagation of the system of education in the neighbourhood of London, and ultimately in most of the principal places in England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland—Misapprehension and perversion of the principles of infant education—Signs of advancement—Hope for the future
Teachers of theft—Children the dupes of the profligate—An effort at detection—Afflicting cases of early depravity—Progress of a young delinquent—Children employed in theft by their parents—Ingenuity of juvenile thieves—Results of an early tuition in crime—The juvenile thief incorrigible—Facility of disposing of stolen property—A hardened child—Parents robbed by their children—A youthful suicide—A youthful murderer
CAUSES OF EARLY CRIME.
Degraded condition of parents—Dreadful effects of drunkenness—Neglect of children inevitable and wilful—The tutorship of wicked companions—Tricks of pantomines injurious—Mischiefs arising from sending children to pawnbrokers—Fairs demoralizing—All kinds of begging to be repressed
REMEDY FOR EXISTING EVILS.
Means long in operation important—Prisons awfully corrupting—Deplorable condition of those released from jail—Education of the infant poor—Its beneficial results—Cases of inviolable honesty—Appeal of Mr. Serjeant Bosanquet—The infant school an asylum from accident and a prevention of various evils—Obstacles in the way of married persons obtaining employment—Arguments for the plan of infant training—Prevalence of profane swearing—The example often shewn by parents—Anecdote in illustration—Parents ill used by their young children—Christian-like wish of George III.—Education for poor children still objected to—Folly of such objection illustrated—Lectures on the subject of infant training
PRINCIPLES OF INFANT EDUCATION.
Moral treatment—Importance of exercise—Play-ground indispensable—The education of nature and human education should be joined—Mental development—Children should think for themselves—Intellectual food adapted for children—A spirit of enquiry should be excited—Gradual development of the young mind—Neglect of moral treatment—Inefficacy of maxims learned by rote—Influence of love—The play-ground a field of observation—Respect of private property inculcated—Force of conscience on the alert—Anecdote—Advantages of a strict regard for truth—The simple truths of the Bible fit for children
REQUISITES FOR AN INFANT SCHOOL.
The master and mistress should reside on the premises—Interior arrangements—A school and its furniture—Lesson-posts and lessons—The younger children should not be separated from the older—Play-ground arrangements—Rotary swing—Its management and advantages
QUALIFICATIONS FOR TEACHERS.
Teachers should practice what they teach—Necessity of patience—Mere automatons will not do for infant teachers—Disadvantage of using excessive restraint—A master and mistress more efficient than two mistresses—Objections to the sole government of females—Too frequent use of the divine names should be avoided—General observations
HINTS FOR CONDUCTING AN INFANT SCHOOL.
Classification—Getting the children into order—Language—Lessons on objects—Rules to be observed by parents—Daily routine of instruction—Opening prayer and hymn—Object or developing lessons—Synopsis of a week's instruction—Cleanliness—Never frighten children—Guard against forgetfulness—Observe punctuality—Be strictly accurate in your expressions—Guard against the entrance of disease—Maxims for teachers—Resolutions
GALLERY TEACHING.—MORAL AND RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION.
Original intention of the gallery—What lessons are adapted for it—Its misapplication—Selection of teachers—Observations—Gallery lessons—on a feather—a spider—a piece of bog turf—a piece of coal—Observations on the preceding lessons—Scripture lessons in the gallery—The finding of Moses—Christ with the doctors—Moral training—Its neglect in most schools—Should be commenced in infancy—Beneficial effects of real moral culture—Ignorance of teachers—The gallery most useful in moral training—Specimen of a moral lesson—Illustrations of moral culture—Anecdotes—Simpson on moral education—Observations—Hints to teachers
REWARDS AND PUNISHMENTS.
Necessity of some punishment—Rewards to monitors—Trial by jury—Illustrative case—Necessity of firmness—Anecdotes—Playing the truant—Its evils—Means for prevention—Devices for punishment—Sympathy encouraged—Evil of expelling children—Case of Hartley—Difficulty of legislating for rewards and punishments—Badges of distinction not necessary
Means for conveying instruction—Method of teaching the alphabet in connection with objects—Spelling—Reading—Developing lessons—Reading lessons in natural history—The arithmeticon—Brass letters—Their uses
The arithmeticon—How applied—Numeration—Addition—Subtraction —Multiplication—Division—Fractions—Arithmetical tables—Arithmetical songs—Observations
FORM, POSITION, AND SIZE.
Method of instruction—Geometrical song—Anecdotes—Size—Long measure—Observations
Its attraction for children—Sacred geography—Geographical song—Lessons on geography
PICTURES AND CONVERSATIONS.
Pictures—Religious instruction—Specimens of picture lessons on Scripture and natural history—Other means of religious instruction—Effects of religious instruction—Observations
ON TEACHING BY OBJECTS.
Object boards—Utility of this method
Exercise—Various positions—Exercise blended with instruction Arithmetical and geometrical amusements
Infant ditties—Songs on natural history—Moral lessons in verse—Influence of music in softening the feelings—Illustrative anecdote
Method of instruction—Grammatical rhymes
THE ELLIPTICAL PLAN.
Method Explained—Its success
REMARKS ON SCHOOLS.
National schools—British and foreign societies—Sunday schools—Observations
HINTS ON NURSERY EDUCATION.
Introduction to botany—First lessons in natural history—First truths of astronomy—Geographical instruction—Conclusion
THE INFANT SYSTEM.
* * * * *
RETROSPECT OF MY CAREER.
Days and scenes of childhood—Parental care—Power of early impressions—School experience—Commencement in business—Sunday-school teaching and its results—Experiment on a large scale—Development of plans and invention of implements—Heavy bereavement—Propagation of the system of education, in the neighborhood of London, and ultimately in most of the principal places in England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland—Misapprehension and perversion of the principles of infant education—Signs of advancement—Hope for the future.
* * * * *
Be it a weakness, it deserves some praise, We love the play-place of our early days; The scene is touching."—Cowper
"What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?"—Ecclesiastes i. 3.
* * * * *
How came you to think of the Infant School system of teaching?—is a question that I have often been asked; and my friends think it advisable that it should, in part at least, be answered. I proceed therefore, in compliance with their wishes, to give some little of the required information in this place, as perhaps it may throw light upon, or explain more clearly, the fundamental principles laid down and advocated throughout this volume. In few words, then, I would reply,—circumstances forced me to it. Born an only child, under peculiar circumstances, and living in an isolated neighbourhood, I had no childish companions from infancy; I was, consequently, thrown much on my own resources, and early became a thinker, and in some measure a contriver too. I beheld a beautiful world around me, full of everything to admire and to win attention. As soon as I could think at all, I saw that there must be a Maker, Governor, and Protector of this world. Such things as had life won my admiration, and thus I became very fond of animals. Flowers and fruits, stones and minerals, I also soon learned to observe and to mark their differences. This led to enquiries as to how they came—where from—who made them? My mother told me they came from God, that he made them and all things that I saw; and also that he made herself and me. From that moment I never doubted His wonderful existence. I could not, nor did I have, at that age, any correct idea of God; but I soon learned to have elevated notions of His works, and through them I was led to adore something invisible—something I was convinced of within, but could not see. My mother, to my knowledge, never deceived me, or told me an untruth: therefore, I believed her implicitly; and to this day I never doubted. So much for the implanting an early faith in the Unseen. But the beautiful world and the things in it which I saw, and with which I came in contact, Oh! how wonderful they appeared to me! They were my companions! Other children were strange to me, and they were not nigh either to help or to thwart me.
My mother was my oracle during the first six years of childhood, resolving my difficulties and answering my questions. I was happy—very happy! and still look back to those days with indescribable pleasure and satisfaction. I had no tasks. I was not pestered with A.B. C., nor ab. eb. ib. From things my parents chiefly taught me my first lessons, and they have been as durable as life. For days and weeks did I study such lessons. My parents waited till I asked for information, and when it was required it was never denied. The world and the wonders in it formed as it were a heaven to me. I am told I gave but little trouble at this age. In the beautiful fields and wild coppices about Hornsey, as yet unencroached upon by suburban extension; and by the side of the then solitary banks of the New River, I was always to be found. In cold and wet weather I had a stock of similar lessons in my home. Small live animals were my constant companions; they taught me that love begets love. I did love and delight in them, and when they died I mourned their loss. Every day brought me new information, which my parents perfected. At length the alphabet was mastered, and afterwards spelling, reading, and so forth. My mind being thus previously filled with ideas, the acquirement of words and abstract terms became less irksome, and I cannot remember that thus far it cost me any trouble, much less pain. Information of every kind fit for childhood then really gave me pleasure. No doubt I am greatly indebted to my parents for their judicious management. My father always in the evening, took great pains to explain things to me; he nurtured but never crammed; he knew when to teach and when to let alone. Unfortunately, through very peculiar circumstances, I was removed from the immediate care and superintendence of both parents rather early in life; and, at an age the most dangerous, was left to grapple nearly alone with the wide world and the beings in it, with little of either parental guidance. It was then I saw the immense importance and advantage of early impressions. To me they were of incalculable benefit, and no doubt led, when I became a man, to the thoughts which ended in the development and practical working of the Infant System and method of education.
Schools for infants then existed, but what were they? Simply dame-schools, with the hornbook for boys and girls, and perhaps a little sewing for the latter. Their sign was—"Children taught to read and work here," and their furniture the cap and bells, the rod in pickle, and a corner for dunces. The finishing stroke was seen in the parlour of the inn, or the farm-house, in the shape of needlework as a samplar;—"Lydia Languish, her work, done at —— school, in the year of our Lord, 1809." Such were the schools in country places then in existence, the little ones doing nothing. In after-life, I thought a remedy was required and might be found, and therefore set about working it out. How it was done shall be hereafter explained.
I knew my own infant state had been a happy one, and I wondered to see children crying to go to school, when learning had been such a delight to me. But I soon ceased to wonder when I was sent there myself. At my first school I can truly say I learnt nothing, except it be that I had especially the sense of feeling. I often had raps with the cane on the head, across the shoulders, and on the hand, and I found it was mainly for not learning what the teacher had forgotten to teach me. The terms used were "master" and "mistress," and they were tolerably appropriate as far as I was concerned, for to me both became objects of terror, so much so, that for the first time in my life, I really fretted when the hour of teaching came. My parents were not long in perceiving this although I did not complain. They told me it was for my good that I should go to school, and I thoroughly believed them. Yet I could not understand why it should be associated with so much dislike and pain on my part, when my first school,—the beautiful world of nature, had been so lovely, and my first teachers had always increased the delight by removing my difficulties, and this so much so that I now longed for evening to come to have fresh light and instruction given. My father now decided that I should not go to school, and he became my teacher as before, the world being my great book. I was delighted with Robinson Crusoe, and this work became my companion, and to which was added the Pilgrim's Progress. After these, my great favourite was Buffon's Natural History. I used to go alone, taking a volume at a time, to read amidst the pleasant country around, but most frequently in the quiet nooks and retreats of Hornsey Wood. It seems, however, that I was always watched and superintended by my mother during these readings and rural rambles, for whenever danger was near she generally appeared, but seldom otherwise, so that I had perfect freedom in these matters. I have every reason to believe that the first seven years of my life laid the basis of all I know that is worth knowing, and led to the formation of my character and future career in life. Of my schooling afterwards it is unnecessary to say much, as it was the usual routine such as others had, but it never satisfied me, and I even then saw errors throughout the whole, and this strengthened my first impressions, and tended to mature the after-thought in me, that something wanted doing and must be done. It is not my intention in this introductory chapter to write an auto-biography; but my object is simply to show, how one impression followed another in my case, and what led to it; to point out briefly the various plans and inventions I had recourse to in carrying out my views and intentions; and, finally, to allude to their propagation through the country personally by myself, on purpose to show, in conclusion, that although infant education has been extensively adopted, and many of its principles, being based on nature, have been applied with great success to older children, yet especially in the case of infants, that strict adherence to nature and simplicity which is so fundamental and so requisite, has been often overlooked, and in some cases totally discarded.
It will, I trust, appear from what has been already said, that even from early childhood I both saw and felt that there was a period in human life, and that the most important period, as experience has proved to my full satisfaction, not legislated for, that is, not duly provided with suitable and appropriate methods of education. To see this was one thing, to provide a remedy for it and to invent plans for carrying out that remedy, was another. The systems of Bell and of Lancaster were then commencing operations, but were quite unsuitable for children under seven years of age at least, and therefore took little or no cognizance of that early period, which I had been inwardly convinced was of such eminent importance. I was destined for business, and served the usual apprenticeship to become qualified for it, and also continued in it for a short period on my own account. Even at this time the thought ever haunted me as to what should be done for young children. At length the germ was developed at one of the Sunday Schools, which were then rising into general notice. For years I attended one of these in London, and here circumstances again befriended me, regarding the matter so frequently in my thoughts. The teachers mostly preferred having a class to superintend that knew something, and I being then a junior, it fell to my lot to have a class that knew little or nothing. I mean nothing that it was the object of the Sunday-school to teach. It soon appeared clear to me, that such a class required different treatment to those more advanced, and especially the young children. Nobody wanted this class, it was always "to let," if I did not take it. The result was, I always had it. Others looked to the post of honour, the Bible-class. I soon found that to talk to such children as I had to teach, in the manner the others did to the older and more advanced children, was useless, and thus I was forced to simplify my mode of teaching to suit their state of apprehension, and now and then even to amuse them. This succeeded so well, that in the end my class became the popular class, and I became still further convinced of the desirableness of an especial plan for teaching the very young. I, however, still thought that the alphabet should be taught first, with the usual things in their order. At length, shortly after my marriage, which was rather early in life, an opportunity presented itself for trying an experiment on a larger scale; from having explained my views on early education to a friend, I was solicited to take the superintendence of an asylum for young children, about to be formed in a populous part of London. Having thus an opportunity of carrying out my wishes, thoughts, and feelings, in a way that I could not have anticipated, I gave up my connexion with business, and devoted myself to the object. Great and unforseen difficulties however had to be encountered. The first week was dreadful. I began with too many children, and we had six whom the mothers afterwards confessed they sent to wean. These not only cried themselves, but set all the others crying also, and we regretted having begun the experiment. At length, driven almost to despair, it became evident that something new must be done to still the tumult. As an expedient, I elevated a cap on a pole, which immediately attracted their attention and occasioned silence. Thus I obtained a clue to guide me, and my mind instantly perceived one of the most fundamental principles in infant teaching, in fact of most teaching, and which long experience has proved true, and that is, to appeal to the SENSES of the children. After this, every day developed something new to me, the children became happy beyond my expectations, and my course onward was gradually progressive. Children and teachers became happy together; difficulties vanished as we proceeded, and at length my wife and I made up our minds to devote our whole lives to the perfecting of our plans, and the carrying them out extensively. The novelty of the thing drew numbers of visitors to a district, where the carriages of the nobility and gentry had not been seen before; but the labour to us was so greatly increased by this, that my wife sunk under it, and I was left with four young children, to prosecute my plans alone in the world.
From the day I caught the idea, that a great secret in teaching the young was to teach through the senses, the various implements now in such general use in infant schools, were step by step invented by me. Objects of all kinds were introduced, and oral lessons given upon them, to teach their qualities and properties, and amongst the various visitors most frequently present at such times, was the gentleman who has acquired fame by publishing "Lessons on Objects," which little work has elsewhere been highly commended by me, albeit it came forth into the world several years after the period I now speak of. To give such lessons I found it requisite to have the children altogether, so as better to attract their attention simultaneously. This was first attempted by placing them at one end of the room, but it was found inconvenient; then parallel lines were chalked across the floor, and they sat down in order on these; but though attention was gained, the posture was unsuitable. Cords were then stretched across to keep them in proper rank, and various experiments tried with seats, until they ended in the construction of a permanently fixed gallery of regularly ascending seats. This implement or structure has now come into almost universal use in infant schools, and, in fact, they are considered incomplete without one; and also they are in much request in schools for children of every age. To give an idea of number through the eye, I had recourse at first to buttons strung on strings across a frame, and this led to the substitution of wooden balls on wires, and other improvements through experience, until the arithmeticon, hereafter described, was fully formed. It having been found a useful instrument, the credit of contriving it has been impugned, by liking it to the Roman Abacus and Chinese Swanpan; but were those instruments like in structure, or designed especially to teach the multiplication table? if not, they are no more similar than "a hawk to a hand-saw." The former I have never seen, and the first time I saw one of the Chinese instruments was some five or six years ago in the Museum at Hull. The clapping of hands, the moving of arms, marching in order, and various other motions, all of which are now become the especial characteristics of an infant-school, were gradually introduced as circumstances or nature dictated, partly to obtain simultaneous action and obedience, and partly to provide that physical exercise which beings so young perpetually require, and which they are constantly taking when left free and unrestrained. It is not requisite to make mention here of the swing—the play grounds—the flower borders—and various other matters which are fully treated of in the following portions of this work, further than to add, that they are now generally adopted in schools, and especially in some of the principal training establishments in the British Empire. As these plans and instruments are used by a certain religious infant-school society, which professes to have imported its system from Switzerland, where such things never had their origin, I feel it necessary most emphatically to repeat, that they are entirely of my own invention.
After the severe bereavement mentioned above, I still persevered in my favourite study, and learned more from my own children than I did before, having to act in the double capacity of father and mother. I am well aware of the loss my children sustained by the above calamity. In the matter of training, nothing can replace a good mother,—and such indeed she eminently was! I felt the heavy stroke more severely, and my children did also; but I consoled myself with the reflection, that my loss was her gain, and that she had lived to witness fruits of her unparalleled labours, to the thorough abandonment of self, and the glory of her Maker. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of these little ones, ye have done it unto me." Night and day, when I had time to think, such promises as these cheered and sustained me in doing what I could for my own motherless children, and more and more cemented my affections on the children of others, and, finally, enabled me to mature my plans, and gave me strength and courage to carry them out, first in the villages and places near London, and, ultimately, single-handed and alone, through more than a quarter of a century, in many of the chief cities, towns, and villages of the United Kingdom. Simply to state this fact is all that is requisite here to answer my present purpose, and to enlarge more upon it is needless, as a full detail of the whole career is given in my "Early Discipline Illustrated; or, the Infant System Progressing and Successful," third edition, published in 1840, and to which much more would require adding to bring it down to the present time, if a further edition should be called for.
That prejudice should assail me, and objections be started as I came more out into the world, was to be expected. I knew my own intentions, but the world did not, and I came in for a full share of obloquy and persecution. This did me much good, and was a preparatory discipline, to make me careless of the opinion of mankind in the matter, so long as I felt that I was in the right, and had the approval of my own conscience. The more I was opposed, the more were my energies lighted up and strengthened; opposition always sharpened my faculties, instead of overcoming and depressing me. The whole gradually prospered from the first, under every disadvantage and notwithstanding the strenuous efforts of the short-sighted and bigoted. These things laid my first patrons prostrate, and the Society of great names which followed, was soon dissolved. Every effort was made by the enemies of true training and education, to crush the thing in the bud, and not only the thing, but also the man who developed it and worked it out. Thank God, these inimical aims did not succeed. Though worldly patrons failed, I had one Patron who never deserted me, but Who upheld and encouraged me from first to last, until the end was gained. Not, however, all that was aimed at, but much of it, and the rest will follow or I am greatly mistaken. I have in various places seen things that I earnestly contended for, but which were rejected at the time, at length established and their value seen. Look at the schools in existence now, bad as some of them are, and compare them with those which existed a third of a century ago, and it will be found that they have progressed, and it may safely be anticipated that they will still further progress, for there is much need of it. The system pourtrayed in this book is intended to act on all the faculties of a child, especially the highest, and to strengthen them at the time the mere animal part of his nature is weak. The existing schools were not found fit to take our children when they left us. The dull, monotonous, sleepy, heavy system pursued, was quite unadapted to advance such pupils. At this point of the history much damage was done to our plans. The essence or kernel was omitted and the mere shell retained, to make infant schools harmonise with the existing ones, instead of the contrary. There were and are however two great exceptions to this rule. The Model Schools at Dublin under the Government Board of Education, and the Glasgow Training Schools for Scotland. At Dublin all is progression. The infant department is the best in Europe,—I believe the best in the world. The other departments are equally good in most things, and are well managed, as far as regards a good secular education being given, and better I think than any similar institution in England. At Glasgow the same master whom I taught still exists. I have not seen the schools for many years, but I hear from those who have been trained there, that nothing can work better. The Glasgow Committee, with Mr. Stow at their head, deserve the thanks of the whole community for having applied the principles on which the Infant School System is based, to juveniles, and carried out and proved the practicability of it for the public good. I told them this in lectures at Glasgow long ago, and exhibited before them children to prove the truths I promulgated, both there and in other parts of Scotland, to convince a doubting and cautious public that my views were practicable. I may add, in passing, that I found the Scotch took nothing on trust. They would listen to my lectures, but it always ended in my being obliged to prove it with children. To David Stow much credit is due, for having written useful books and performed useful works. I am not the man to deprive him of this his just due, but I have such faith in the honour of his countrymen in general, that I believe the time is not far distant when some one of them will give to me that credit which is fairly and justly due to me with respect to the educational movements in Scotland. No class of men are better able to appreciate and understand the principles on which a system of true education should be based than Scotchmen, and hence, though cautious in taking up new things, or new views of things, they can do justice to, and appreciate, that which is worthy of their attention.
At the time I have been speaking of there were no lessons published suitable for us. I searched the print shops in the metropolis, and with the aid of drawings from friends, supplied this deficiency. Next I had suitable lessons printed to accompany them, and also spelling lessons of such words as could be acted and explained. Then followed suitable reading lessons, prints of objects, and the simple forms of geometry. When a demand was created for all these, the publishing trade took them up, and thus the numerous excellent plates and lessons now published for the purposes of teaching, had their first origin.
I ant thoroughly convinced that the first seven years of a child's life is the golden period, and if I can induce mankind generally to think with me, and to act on the principles humbly laid open in the succeeding chapters of this book, I may feel some consolation that I have not lived in vain. Sure I am that if the world will only give man a fair chance, and train him from the beginning with care, with prudence, with caution, with circumspection, with freedom, and above all with love, he will bear such fruit, under the blessing of God, as will make even this world as a paradise. From childhood up to age has this truth been perfecting and strengthening in me, and I have no more doubt that it is a truth, than I have of my own existence. Who can look upon a child without admiring it, without loving it? With my feelings it is impossible! When I compare the Revealed Will of God,—the Scriptures, with His other Great Book, the book of nature, which I read so early in life, and read with delight to this present hour, I see the one illustrates the other. I see that the best ground produces the rankest weeds—but not if cultivated. What does not care do for all things in nature, why not then for man? Let him run wild through neglect, and undoubtedly he produces weeds; but this, to my mind, is an argument in his favour, and shews the ground is capable of producing rich fruits. When we study the true nature of his mind, with the same assiduity as we now do study the nature of his body, then will mankind see it in this light, begin at the right end, and cultivate from the first the beautiful faculties of his own species. I say beautiful! and are not the budding faculties of childhood both beautiful and lovely? "Feed my lambs," saith the Lord Jesus. But, reader, are they all duly fed in this rich, wealthy, and christian country? How many, on the contrary, are fed with evil influences, street associations, and are thus poisoned at every pore, until their being is thoroughly contaminated through neglect, public and private, and, when not orphans, even parental neglect also; and then after having increased our county rates, enlarged our prisons, and built union workhouses (with respect to morals and training for the young, I say pest-houses) we add ragged schools. We allow them to become contaminated, and when that is accomplished, we go to work to undo what has been done. If this does not succeed we punish by law the poor neglected beings for taking the poisons we really offered them! Oh, rare consistency in this boasted age of light, and science, and learning! Let us, therefore, first seek an education worthy of the name, and then find the best means of carrying it out. What exists at present is fundamentally defective, especially by beginning too late, and as regards the plans and principles laid down for infants in many cases, much has been merely travestied, and many of the most essential parts entirely set aside or overlooked.
The amount of solid information that may be given to an infant by a wise and judicious mother, during the first two years only, would appear to many persons astonishing. I have as clear a recollection of what my mother taught me at two years old, as I have of that which she taught me at the age of six. The facts crowd upon me so fast that I scarcely know where to stop. Those lessons were the germs of the inventions and babyisms—the hand-clapping, arm-twisting, and the like—with which the infants are so delighted in their schools, and which, at the time they were developed, about a third of a century since, were scouted, and the inventor looked upon as a good natured simpleton, or a well-meaning fool. I have a rather vivid recollection of this fact, but in the end, as we proceeded, many who came to sneer, went away with very different feelings. The plans were for infants, for infants they answered well, but I wish I could say that no excresences had grown upon them.
Now the ends to be answered in Infant Education, as intended by me, are as follows. First, to feed the child's faculties with suitable food; Second,—to simplify and explain everything, so as to adapt it properly to those faculties; Third, not to overdo anything, either by giving too much instruction, or instruction beyond their years, and thus over-excite the brain, and injure the faculties; and, Fourth, ever to blend both exercise and amusement with instruction at due intervals, which is readily effected by a moderate amount of singing, alternating with the usual motions and evolutions in the schoolroom, and the unfettered freedom of the play-ground. If these rules be attended to, the following results are certain,—a higher state of physical, mental, and moral health. Physical health is essential to mental vigour if it is to come to manhood. If the physical, mental, moral, and spiritual constitution be properly acted upon, fed, and trained, it adds to the happiness of the child; but if this is not done, it becomes miserable, and as a consequence restless, troublesome, and mischievous. Such facts were made very evident to me by the infants under my care in the earlier part of my career, and also have been fully confirmed throughout it, and they have forced me as it were to that more lively, interesting, and amusing mode of instruction, which I have through life endeavoured to propagate. I found children to be highly delighted with pictures and object-lessons; hence their value and high importance is so strongly insisted on in all my books, and the best methods of using them distinctly laid down. The trouble of rightly using such lessons has caused them to be almost entirely laid aside in very many existing infant schools, and in too many instances the mere learning and repeating of sounds by rote, or what may very properly be called the "parrot system," has been introduced in their place. But I yet hope that the good sense of the public will in the end remedy such defects. In such cases the memory is the only faculty exercised, and that at the expense of those that are higher. Where this is persisted in, the infant system is rendered nugatory, and my labours are in vain. It therefore cannot be too strongly insisted on, and too frequently repeated, that one of its most fundamental principles, as regards the unfolding, properly and easily, of the intellectual faculties, is to communicate notions and ideas rather than words and sounds, or at least to let them be done together.
As before stated, the gallery had its origin in my desire to teach the children simultaneously. It enables a teacher more readily to secure their full attention in all oral lessons, and establishes a sympathy between them. More real facts may be taught children simultaneously by the master, than can be taught by all the monitors in a school. The little infants should always sit at the bottom, and by no means be confined to another room. They can see and hear all that is going on, and understand it far more than you would suppose, though they cannot yet tell all they learn and know; but when the power of speech comes, they will surprise you with what they have learned. It is therefore a great error to separate children and cut them off from the advantage of all object-lessons, and gallery-teaching, because they are the youngest. They learn more through sympathy and communion with their five or six year elders, than the most clever adult can teach them. An infant-school, is, in many respects, a community in a state of nature. What one does, the other almost involuntarily learns. The merest infants are not an exception to this rule, and therefore the separation in many infant-schools of the children, invariably into two classes, sometimes in two rooms, is a great mistake, and can only arise from ignorance of the laws under which the young mind unfolds itself, and a misunderstanding of the first principles of infant-teaching.
Perhaps one reason that infant-school teaching has not been kept up to its proper point and true standing, is, the desire to make a striking shew before the visitors in a school. I fear the grounds for this opinion are not slight. Perhaps nothing has lead more to the multiplication of singing, even to the injury of the children. The ease with which they learn a metrical piece by rote, and the readiness with which they acquire a tune to it, is surprising, and as the exhibition of such attainments forms a striking sinew, in many cases little else is taught them. But to a sensible and thinking mind, one single piece understood, that is, one where clear ideas are annexed to the words in the minds of the children, is worth a hundred where this is not the case. Intellectual improvement, and moral training, are not thus easily exhibited, especially, the latter; but on dilligent attention to these, the real and permanent utility of the schools depends.
Many things have been taught most unsuitable for young children, and that simplicity which is so absolutely requisite, both as regards matter and language, seriously departed from. Let but the great principle of teaching through the senses be borne distinctly in mind, and of giving ideas in preference to sounds, and it will have a strong tendency to put an end to the evil complained of. How much may be taught by the simplest object, such as a stone? Form—weight—hardness, colour, sound, and numerous other qualities and properties, all of which must be clearly understood, because they are demonstrated by the sight and other senses. Once give to the mind a store of clear ideas in regular and natural order, and a series of words that are distinct and definite in meaning, and you have laid a firm foundation whereon to exercise the higher faculties of reflection and reasoning. Still more is it of paramount importance to educate and bring out the moral faculties, to cultivate the sense of right and wrong, to enlighten and strengthen the young conscience, to teach the love of good, and the hatred of evil, and to strive to bring the whole being under the new commandment of Christ, "that ye love one another." The golden rule, "to do unto others as ye would that they should do unto you," is one of the most powerful precepts that can be applied to awaken just moral feelings; and innumerable instances must occur, in the varied events which happen in a school, to bring it home powerfully to the heart, and illustrate it appropriately.
Perhaps in nothing has that simplicity of teaching so requisite for the young, and so earnestly contended for by me throughout, been so much disregarded, neglected, and preverted as in the matter of religion. I taught from the first, by means of pictures properly selected, scriptural truths and facts, histories and parables; and also suitable texts, and simple hymns and prayers were added. This surely was enough for infants. I thought so then, and I think so still, for an overdoing always ends in an undoing, and the mind of a child should never be crammed with that which it cannot understand, to the neglect of that which it may. I have opened schools for many sects and parties, and have been sorry to find them so prone to bind the "grevious burdens" of their own peculiar dogmas on the feeble minds of little children, to the neglect of the "weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy, and the love of God." I hope a time will come when the distinct precepts of Christ, in this respect, will be more faithfully regarded. The religion for infants should be a simple trust in "the love and kindness of God our Saviour," a desire of grace and strength from Him, and an aim to live thereby in love and duty to their parents and teachers, and in kindness and affection with their brothers, sisters, and schoolfellows. Such things as these, their young minds may apprehend, feel, and apply, and thus be strengthened and benefitted, but scholastic subtelties, and controverted dogmas, such as the grey-headed are perpetually disputing about, surely should never be taught to infants by any one who has carefully considered the subject, and properly studied the nature of the infant mind.
In all probability advancing years will prevent me in future from personally labouring much in the cause, and from personally overcoming objections, by presenting publicly, facts that cannot be refuted. It is out of my power now to employ agents and pay them. I cannot take infants by sea and land to convince unbelievers, and silence gainsayers. Neither circumstances nor remaining strength, will allow me to repeat these things. I must trust then to my pen, to the thinkers amongst us, and above all to the good Providence of God, for further success in behalf of the rising generation. Those who doubt what I assert about children should recollect one fact—twenty-seven thousand have passed through my hands, and were for a short time under my training, and have then been examined by me to convince a doubting public, on the spot where they happened to be in each town and country, all this for the period of one-third of a century. Ought not this to entitle me, as respects the education of children, to say such a thing is right, or even such a thing is wrong? The abuse of a plan is no argument against its use. That it has been abused I am well aware,—that the parrot-system has been revived and also applied in infant-schools. It was never intended to injure the young brain by over-exciting it, or to fill the memory with useless rubbish; yet this is done. I cannot help it. I have done and will do my best to prevent such a violation of the very first principles of infant teaching. To conclude, there is much to be thankful for! Since the infant-system was evolved, a very great improvement has taken place in the character of school-books, and also in prints. The graphic illustrations and the simplicity of style, on a variety of subjects, is admirable. The same may be said with respect to nursery books; I see a great improvement in all these. This is comforting to one situated as I am, and leads me to hope much from the future. I trust the intellectual character of the age will advance, and not only the intellectual but also the moral and spiritual, and "that truth and justice, religion and piety may be established amongst us for all generations."
Teachers of theft—Children the dupes of the profligate—An effort at detection—Affecting cases of early depravity—Progress of a young delinquent—Children employed in theft by their parents—Ingenuity of juvenile thieves—Results of an early tuition in crime—The juvenile thief incorrigible—Facility of disposing of stolen property—A hardened child—Parents robbed by their children—A youthful suicide—A youthful murderer.
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"An uneducated, unemployed poor, not only must be liable to fall into a variety of temptations, but they will, at times, unavoidably prove restless, dissatisfied, perverse, and seditious: nor is this all, even their most useful and valuable qualities, for want of regular and good habits, and a proper bias and direction from early religious instruction, frequently became dangerous and hurtful to society; their patience degenerates into sullenness, their perseverance into obstinacy, their strength and courage into brutal ferocity."—The Bishop of Norwich.
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It has long been a subject of regret as well as of astonishment to the reflecting and benevolent, that notwithstanding the numerous institutions which exist in this country for the education and improvement of the poor, and in defiance of the endeavours of our magistracy and police establishment, crime should rather increase than diminish. Many persons have been induced to conclude from this fact that our Sunday, parochial, and national schools, as well as our Bible Societies, and institutions of a similar nature, are of little or no use. Absurd as the inference is, I have known more than one or two persons draw it; not considering, that although these means may be insufficient to counteract the cause of crime, or to prevent all its evil effects, yet, nevertheless, they must certainly check its progress;—that if there be many offenders, despite of these institutions, there would, doubtless, be many more were they not in existence; and hence to revile or neglect them is unworthy of good sense or good feeling.
It is not my purpose in the present chapter to dwell on the commission of crime generally, but on juvenile delinquency in particular; and on this only so far as regards the case of young children. I will, therefore, make public a collection of facts, some of which were obtained at considerable personal hazard and inconvenience, which will place it in a clear yet painful light.
It is said, that in the year 1819, the number of boys, in London alone, who procured a considerable part of their subsistence by pocket-picking and thieving in every possible form, was estimated at from eleven to fifteen hundred. One man who lived in Wentworth-Street, near Spitalfields, had forty boys in training to steal and pick pockets, who were paid for their exertions with a part of the plunder; fortunately, however, for the public, this notable tutor of thieves was himself convicted of theft, and transported. This system of tutorage is by no means uncommon, nor is it confined to the male sex. I remember reading some time back, in the police reports, of a woman who had entrapped eight or ten children from their parents, had trained them up, and sent them out thieving; nor was it until one of these infantile depredators was taken in the act of stealing, that this was made known, and the children restored to their homes. Here we see eight or ten children, probably from the neglect of their parents, enticed away, no doubt by the promise of a few cakes, or of some other trifling reward, and in imminent danger of becoming confirmed thieves, from which they were rescued by this providential discovery of their situation; and we know not how many children may have been led to evil practices in like manner.
I will give another instance which occurred at the office at Queen Square.—A female, apparently no more than nineteen years of age, named Jane Smith, and a child just turned of five years old, named Mary Ann Ranniford, were put to the bar, before Edward Markland, Esq., the magistrate, charged with circulating counterfeit coin in Westminster and the county of Surrey, to a vast extent.
It appeared that the elder prisoner had long been known to be a common utterer of base coin, in which she dealt very largely with those individuals who are agents in London to the manufacturers of the spurious commodity in Birmingham. She had been once or twice before charged with the offence, and therefore she became so notorious that she was necessitated to leave off putting the bad money away herself; but so determined was she to keep up the traffic, that she was in the habit of employing children of tender years to pass the counterfeit money. On one occasion two Bow Street officers observed her at her old trade, in company with the child Ranniford. The officers kept a strict eye upon her movements, and saw her several times pass something to the little girl; and she, by the direction of her instructor, went into different shops (such as hosiers, where she purchased balls of worsted, pastry-cooks, tobacconists, and fruiterers), where she passed the bad money, and received in return goods and change. On the other side of the bridge, the patroles saw the prisoner Smith deliver something to the child, and point out the shop of Mr. Isaacs, a fruiterer, in Bridge Street, Westminster. The child went in, and asked for a juicy lemon, and gave a counterfeit shilling in payment. Mrs. Isaacs had no suspicion from the tender age of the utterer, and its respectable appearance, that the money was bad, and was about to give change, when one of the officers entered, and took the deluded child into custody, whilst his companion secured the elder prisoner (Smith), and on searching her pockets he found twelve bad shillings, some parcels of snuff, several balls of cotton and worsted, and other trifling articles, which the child had purchased in the course of the day. The officers who had secured them, learned from the child that her parents lived in Cross Street, East Lane, Walworth, and that Smith had taken her out for a walk. The patrol instantly communicated the circumstance to the child's parents, who were hard-working honest people, and their feelings on hearing that their infant had been seduced into the commission of such a crime, can be more easily conceived than described. They stated that the woman Smith had formerly lived in the same street, and was frequently giving half-pence and cakes to the child, who would, in consequence, follow her anywhere. Some time since, she removed to Lock's Square, Lock's Fields, and they (the parents) had not seen her for some time. On the day referred to the child was playing in the street, and not finding her come home they became alarmed, and went everywhere, broken hearted, in quest of her, but they could hear no tidings of her till the sad news was brought them by the officers. The poor mother was now in attendance, and her feelings were dreadfully affected, and excited the commiseration of all present.
The prisoner Smith made no defence, and held her head down during the examination. The child stood by her, and took no notice of the proceedings, and they were both fully committed for trial. The mother, on seeing her infant consigned to prison, became quite frantic, and wept hysterically, and had it it not been for the gaoler, she would have inflicted some violence upon the woman Smith, for seducing her infant.
Facts of this kind are sufficient to shew the utility, indeed I may say, the most absolute necessity of providing some means, far, very far more efficient than those at present in existence, for the protection and improvement of the infant poor; that they may not thus fall into the hands of evil and designing wretches, who make a living by encouraging the children of the poor to commit crimes, of the produce of which they themselves take the greatest part.
The younger the children are, the better they suit the purposes of such miscreants; because, if children are detected in any dishonest act, they know well, that few persons will do more than give the child or children a tap on the head, and send them about their business. The tenth part of the crimes committed by these juvenile offenders never comes under public view, because should any person be robbed by a child, and detect him in the act, he is silenced by the by-standers with this remark,—Oh! he is but a child, let him go this time, perhaps the poor thing has done it from necessity, being in want of bread. Thus the delinquent is almost sure to escape, and, instead of being punished, is not unfrequently rewarded for the adventure, as was the case in the following instance.
Having had occasion to walk through Shoreditch some time since, I saw a number of persons collected together round a little boy, who, it appeared, had stolen a brass weight from the shop of a grocer. The shopman stated that three boys came into the shop for half-an-ounce of candied horehound, and that while he was getting down the glass which contained it, one of them contrived to purloin the weight in question. Having some suspicion of the boys, from the circumstance of having recently lost a number of brass weights, he kept his eyes on them, when he saw one put his hand into a box that was on the counter, take out the largest weight, and then run out of the shop, followed by the other two. The boy who stole it, slipped the weight into the hand of one of the others; but the shopman, having observed this manoeuvre, followed the boy who had the weight, who, being the youngest of the three, could not run very fast; he, finding himself closely pursued, threw the weight into the road, and when he was taken, declared that it was not he who took it. The man wished to take the child back to the shop, in order that his master might do with him as he thought proper, but the by-standers, with a charitable zeal which evinced little knowledge, prevented him; one man in particular seemed to interest himself much in the boy's behalf, stating that he knew the child very well, and that he had neither father nor mother. The child immediately took up this plea, and added that he had had no victuals all day. The individual before mentioned then gave him a penny, and his example was followed by many more, till I think the boy had obtained nearly a shilling. I put several questions to him, but was checked by this fellow, who told me, that as I had given the child nothing, I had no right to ask so much? and, after a great deal of abuse, he ended by telling me, that if I did not "take myself off" he would "give me something for myself."
Feeling, however, a great desire to sift further into the matter, I feigned to withdraw, but kept my eye upon the boy, and followed him for nearly two hours, until I saw him join two other boys, one of whom I had not seen before, and who had a bag with something very heavy in it, which, I have every reason to believe, were weights, or something which they had obtained in a similar manner. Wishing to ascertain the fact, I approached them, but they no sooner perceived me, than the little fellow who had been the principal actor in the affair, called out "Nose, Nose,"—a signal-word, no doubt, agreed upon amongst them,—when they all ran down some obscure alleys. I followed, but was knocked down, as if by accident, by two ill-looking fellows, who continued to detain me with apologies till the boys had got safely away. I have little doubt that this was an instance of that organized system of depredation of which I have before spoken, and that the man who took so active a part at the first, was at the bottom of the business; and, in fact, the tutor and employer of the predatory urchins. His activity in preventing the boy from being taken back to the shop—his anxiety to promote a subscription for the boy,—and, lastly, his threat of personal violence if I interfered in the matter, by continuing to question the child,—all these circumstances confirm me in the opinion.
It is only by the knowledge of this fact—the association of infant offenders with those of maturer and hardened habits—that we can account for such cases as the following.—On the 17th of July, 1823, a child only seven years old, was brought before the magistrate at Lambeth Street office, charged with frequently robbing his mother, and was ordered to be locked up all night in the gaol-room. In the evening, however, when his mother returned, he forced his way out of the room, and behaved with such violence that the attendants were obliged to iron both his hands and legs! There can be no doubt that this child had been for a long time under the instruction and evil influence of some old and hardened offender; he must, indeed, have undergone much training before he could have arrived at such a pitch of hardihood, as to make it necessary to handcuff and fetter a child of so tender an age; and to enable him to hold even the magistrates, officers, and his own parent, at defiance.
The following cases afford further proof of the same lamentable truth; the first is extracted from a morning paper of the 20th of September, 1824. "A little boy, not more than six years of age, was brought before the Lord Mayor at the Mansion House, on Saturday, the 18th instant, having been found in a warehouse, where he had secreted himself for the purpose of thieving. At a late hour on Friday night, a watchman was going his round, when, on trying a warehouse in which there was much valuable property, to see whether it was safe, he heard the little prisoner cry. The persons who had the care of the warehouse were roused, and he was taken out. In his fright he acknowledged that a man had taken him from his mother, and induced him, upon a promise of reward, to steal into the warehouse; upon a concerted signal, he was to act as directed by the fellow on the outside; but becoming terrified at being confined so long in the dark, he had cried out and discovered himself. His mother came forward, and received a good character as the wife of a hard-working man. The Lord Mayor gave her son up to her, with an injunction to act carefully and strictly with him. There was reason to believe, he said, that several considerable robberies had been recently committed by means of children like the prisoner, who stole in and remained concealed until midnight, when they gave admission to the robbers. The police should have their eyes upon him."
The other instance is from a report of one of the sessions in London:—
"William Hart, an urchin seven years of age, was indicted for stealing twenty-two shillings in money, numbered, from the person of Mary Conner. The prosecutrix stated, that on the day named in the indictment, she took twenty-five shillings to get something out of pledge, but as there was a crowd in Mary-le-bone, assembled to witness a fight, she was induced to join the mob. While standing there she felt something move in her pocket, and putting her hand outside her clothes, she laid hold of what proved to be the hand of the prisoner, which she held until she had given him a slap on the face, and then she let him go; but on feeling in her pocket she discovered that the theft had actually been committed, and that only three shillings were left. A constable took the urchin into custody, and accused him of robbing her of twenty-two shillings. The prisoner said, 'I have twenty-two shillings in my pocket, but it is my mother's money; she gets so drunk she gives me her money to take care of.' The officer stated to the same effect as the prosecutrix, and added, that in a secret pocket in his jacket he found fourteen shilling and sixpence. It was the practice of gangs of pickpockets to have a child like this to commit the robbery, and hand the plunder to them. Witness went to his parents, who said he had been absent seven weeks, and they would have nothing to do with him. Mr. Baron Garrow, in feeling terms, lamented that a child of such tender years should be so depraved. He added, 'I suppose, gentlemen, I need only to ask you to deliver your verdict.' His lordship then observed, that he would consult with his learned brother as to the best manner of disposing of the prisoner. They at length decided, that although it might seem harsh, the court would record against him fourteen years' transportation, and, no doubt, government would place him in some school; if he behaved well there, the sentence might not be carried into full effect."
I remember a query being once put to me by a person who visited the Spitalfields Infant School at the time it was under my management: "How can you account for the fact, that notwithstanding there are so many old and experienced thieves detected, convicted, and sent out of the country every session, we cannot perceive any dimunition of the numbers of such characters; but that others seem always to supply their places?" The foregoing instance of the systematized instruction of young delinquents by old adepts in the art of pilfering, affords, I think, a satisfactory answer the interrogatory.
The dexterity of experienced thieves shews, that no small degree of care and attention is bestowed on their tuition. The first task of novices, I have been informed, is to go in companies of threes or fours, through the respectable streets and squares of the metropolis, and with an old knife, or a similar instrument, to wrench off the brass-work usually placed over the key-holes of the area-gates, &c., which they sell at the marine store-shops; and they are said sometimes to realize three or four shillings a day, by this means. Wishing to be satisfied on the point, I have walked round many of the squares in town, and in more than a solitary experiment, have found that not one gate in ten had any brass-work over the key-hole; it had moreover been evidently wrenched off,—a small piece of the brass still remaining on many of the gates. Having practised this branch of the profession a considerable time, and become adepts in its execution, the next step, I have been informed, is to steal the handles and brass knockers from doors, which is done by taking out the screw with a small screw-driver: these are disposed of in the same manner as the former things, till the young pilferers are progressively qualified for stealing brass weights, &c., and at length, become expert thieves.
The following fact will shew what extensive depredations young children are capable of committing. I have inserted the whole as it appeared in the public papers:—"Union Hall; Shop Lifting.—Yesterday, two little girls, sisters, very neatly dressed, one nine, and the other seven, years of age, were put to the bar, charged by Mr. Cornell, linen-draper, of High Street, Newington; with having stolen a piece of printed calico, from the corner of his shop.
"Mr. Cornell stated, that the children came to his shop, yesterday morning; and while he was engaged with his customers at the further end of the shop, he happened to cast his eyes where the prisoners were, and observed the oldest roll up a large piece of printed calico, and put it into a basket, which her little sister carried: the witness immediately advanced to her, and asked if she had taken any thing from off the counter; but she positively asserted that she had not. However, on searching her basket, the calico was found; together with a piece of muslin, which Mr. Cornell identified as belonging to him, and to have been taken in the above way. Mr. Allen questioned the eldest girl about the robbery, but she positively denied any knowledge as to how, or in what manner, the calico and muslin had got into her basket, frequently appealing to her little sister to confirm the truth of what she declared. When asked if she had ever been charged with any offence, she replied, 'O yes, sir, some time back I was accused of stealing a watch from a house, but I did not do it.' The magistrate observed, that the father should be made acquainted with the circumstance, and, in the mean time, gave the gaoler instructions that the two little delinquents should be taken care of.
"Hall, the officer, stated that he had information that there was a quantity of goods, which had been stolen by the prisoners, concealed in a certain desk in the house of the father; and that a great deal of stolen property would, in all probability, be found there, if a search warrant were granted, as the two unfortunate children were believed to be most extensive depredators.
"Mr. Allen immediately granted the warrant; and Hall, accompanied by Mr. Cornell, proceeded to the residence of the father of the children, who is an auctioneer and appraiser, at 12, Lyon Street, Newington.
"Hall returned in half an hour with the father in his custody, and produced a great quantity of black silk handkerchiefs, which he had found on the premises; but the desk, which had been spoken of by his informers as containing stolen property, he had found quite empty. The father, when questioned by the witness as to whether he had any duplicates of property in his possession, positively denied that fact. At the office he was searched, and about fifty duplicates were found in his pockets, most of which were for silk handkerchiefs and shawls. There were also a few rings, for the possession of which the prisoner could not satisfactorily account. He was asked why he had assured the officer he had no duplicates? He replied, that he had not said so; but Mr. Cornell, who was present during the search, averred that the prisoner had most positively declared that he had not a pawnbroker's duplicate in his possession.
"Mr. Watt, a linen-draper, of Harper Street, Kent Road, stated that he attended in consequence of seeing the police reports in the newspapers, describing the two children; he immediately recognised the two little girls as having frequently called at his shop for trifling articles; and added, that he had been robbed of a variety of silk handkerchiefs and shawls, and he had no doubt but that the prisoners were the thieves. It was their practice, he said, to go into a shop, and call for a quarter of a yard of muslin, and while the shopkeeper was engaged, the eldest would very dexterously slip whatever article was nearest, to her little sister, who was trained to the business, and would thrust the stolen property into a basket which she always carried for that purpose. Mr. Watt identified the silk handkerchiefs as his property, and said that they had been stolen in the above manner by the prisoners.
"The father was asked where he had got the handkerchiefs? He replied, that he had bought them from a pedlar for half-a-crown a piece at his door. However, his eldest daughter contradicted him by acknowledging that her sister had stolen them from the shop of Mr. Watt. He became dreadfully agitated, and then said—'What could I say? Surely I was not to criminate my own children!'
"Mr. Allen observed, that there was a clear case against the two children, but after consulting with the other magistrates, he was of opinion that the youngest child should be given up into the charge of the parish officers of Newington, as she was too young to go into a prison, and desired that the other girl should be remanded, in order to have some of the pledged goods produced. The father was committed in default of bail for receiving stolen goods. The child has since been found guilty. The prosecutor stated that the family consisted of five children, not one of whom could read or write!"
Another very cruel practice of these young delinquents is, to go into some chandlers shop as slily as possible, and take the first opportunity of stealing the till with its contents, there being always some older thief ready to take charge of it, as soon as the child removes it from the shop.[A] Many a poor woman has had to lament the loss of her till, with its contents, taken by a child, perhaps, scarcely six years of age. There is always a plan laid down for the child to act upon. Should he be unable to obtain possession of the till himself, he is instructed to pretend that he has missed his way, and to inquire for some street near the spot; or, he will address her with, "Please, ma'am, can you tell me what it is o'clock?" The unsuspecting woman, with the greatest kindness possible, shews the child the street he inquires for, or leaves the shop to ascertain the hour, and for her civility, she is sure to find herself robbed, when she returns, by some of the child's companions. Should he be detected in actual possession of the property, he is instructed to act his part in the most artful manner, by pretending that some man sent him into the shop to take it, who told him that he would give him sixpence to buy cakes.
[Footnote A: So complete is the science of pilfering rendered by its perpetrators, that they have even a peculiar vocabulary of their own, rendering their conversation, to those who may chance to overhear them, as mysterious and incomprehensible as though they were conversing in a foreign tongue; for instance, the scutcheons they steal from the key holes are called porcupines; brass weights, lueys; while purloining the contents of a till, is called taking the ding. In short, they have a peculiar name for almost every thing.]
It is not uncommon for these young offenders to stop children, whom they may meet in the street unprotected, and either by artifice or violence, take from them their hats, necklaces, &c., thus initiating themselves, as it were, into the desperate crime of assault and highway robbery.
Young as the subjects of the foregoing narrations mostly were, I have little doubt their pupilage commenced at a much earlier age; they could not otherwise have attained so much proficiency in the practice of crime, and hardihood on detection. However possible it maybe thought to reclaim children of so tender an age, I am convinced that thieves of more advanced years become so thoroughly perverted in their wills and understandings, as to be incapable of perceiving the disgrace of their conduct, or the enormity of the offence. I was once told by an old thief that thieving was his profession, and he had therefore a right to follow it; and I could plainly discover from further conversation with him, that he had established in himself an opinion that thieving was no harm, provided he used no violence to the person; he seemed, indeed, to have no other idea of the rights of property, than that described as the maxim of a celebrated Scottish outlaw,—that
"They should take who have the power, And they should keep who can."
When this most lamentable state is reached, it is to be feared all modes of punishment, as correctives, are useless; and the only thing left is to prevent further depredation by banishment.
The incorrigibility which a child may attain, who has once associated with thieves at an early age, is apparent from the following fact. "Richard Leworthy, aged fourteen, was indicted for stealing five sovereigns, the property of William Newling, his master. The prosecutor stated, that he resided in the Commercial Road, and is by business a tailor; the prisoner had been his apprentice for four months, up to the 28th of August, when he committed the robbery. On that day he gave him five pounds to take to Mr. Wells, of Bishopsgate Street, to discharge a bill; he never went, nor did he return home; he did not hear of him for three weeks, when he found him at Windsor, and apprehended him. The prisoner admitted having applied the money to his own use. He was found at a public house, and said he had spent all his money except one shilling and six pence. A shopman in the service of Mr. Wells, stated that in August last the witness owed his master a sum of money; he knew the prisoner; he did not bring money to their shop, either on or since the 28th of August. The prisoner made no defence, but called his master, who said he received him from the Refuge for the Destitute, and had a good character with him. He would not take him back again. Mr. Wontner stated, that he had received two communications from the Rev. Mr. Crosby, the chaplain of the institution, stating they would not interfere on his behalf. The jury returned a verdict of guilty. Mr. Justice Park observed, that the best course would be to send him out of the country."
Here we see, that notwithstanding the discipline he had undergone, and the instructions he had received during his confinement in the establishment of the Refuge for the Destitute, he had not been more than four months from that place before he fell into his old habits. It is moreover to be remarked, that such had been his conduct during his confinement, that the directors of the establishment thought themselves war ranted in giving a good character with him. They were probably little surprised on hearing of this relapse on the part of the boy,—experience had doubtless taught them it was no uncommon thing, and we plainly see they were convinced that all further attempts at reclaiming him were useless.
The facility with which property maybe disposed of, should be mentioned as a powerful inducement to crime. The following case suggests it to the mind:
Thomas Jackson, a mere child, not more than nine years of age, was charged some time ago at the Town Hall, with committing a burglary on the premises of Mr. James Whitelock, a master builder, Griffith's Rents, St. Thomas's, Southwark. Mr. Whitelock, it appears, resided in an old mansion, formerly an inn, which he had divided into two separate tenements, occupying one part himself, and letting the other to the parents of the prisoner. In this division he had deposited building materials to a considerable amount, one hundred weight of which, in iron holdfasts, hinges, nails, clamps, &c., he missed one day on entering the room, the door of which had been blocked by a large copper, and the partition door forced. The character of the prisoner being of the worst description, he was apprehended, when he confessed he had taken all the property, and disposed of it to a woman, named Priscilla Fletcher, the keeper of a marine store, 34, James Street. The receiver, who is the last of the family that has not been either hanged or transported, refused to swear to the prisoner, though she admitted she believed he was the person she bought the property produced from, at the rate of one penny for each three pounds. It was proved to be worth three half-pence per pound. Alderman J.J. Smith regretted that the deficiency of evidence prevented him sending the young delinquent for trial, and thereby rescuing him from an ignominious death, and told Mrs. Priscilla, who was all modesty, that he was convinced she had perjured herself,—and not to exult at her own escape from transportation, a reward he could not help considering she richly merited, and which in due season she would doubtless receive.
The hardened child laughed during the hearing, and on being sentenced, by the oath of the officers, as a reputed thief, spit at his accuser, and exclaimed, as he was taken from the bar to be conveyed to Brixton,—"Is this all? I'll torment you yet!"
To add one more case, I may state that, at the Exeter Sessions, some time since, two children were convicted, who, it is believed, were not above ten years of age. Previously to this they had been convicted of felony, and had suffered six months imprisonment at Bodmin; and it appears that two years before, they started alone from Bristol on this circuit of youthful depredation.
Having collected the foregoing instances of juvenile delinquency, and presented them to the public, I cannot refrain from adducing a few other cases which came under my own observation.
Whilst conducting the Spitalfields' Infant School, several instances of dishonesty in the children occurred. On one occasion the mother herself came to complain of a little boy, not more than four years old, on the following grounds. She stated, that being obliged to be out at work all day, as well as her husband, she was under the necessity of leaving the children by themselves. She had three besides the little boy of whom she was complaining. Having to pay her rent, she put eighteen-pence for that purpose in a cup at the top of a cupboard. On stepping home to give the children their dinners, she found the boy at the cupboard, mounted on a chair, which again was placed on the top of a table. On looking for the money, she found four-pence already gone; one penny of this she found in his pocket, the rest he had divided amongst the other children, that they might not tell of him. After this relation I kept a strict watch on the child, and three or four days afterwards the children detected him opening my desk, and taking half-pence out of it. They informed me of this, and while they were bringing him up to me the half-pence dropped out of his hand. I detected him in many other very bad actions, but have reason to hope, that, by suitable discipline and instruction, he was effectually cured of his sad propensities.
About the same time, I observed two little children very near the school-house in close conversation, and from their frequently looking at a fruit-stall that was near, I felt inclined to watch them; having previously heard from some of the pupils, that they had frequently seen children in the neighbourhood steal oysters and other things. I accordingly placed myself in a convenient situation, and had not long to wait, for the moment they saw there was no one passing, they went up to the stall, the eldest walking alongside the other, apparently to prevent his being seen, whilst the little one snatched an orange, and conveyed it under his pinafore, with all the dexterity of an experienced thief. The youngest of these children was not four years old, and the eldest, apparently, not above five. There was reason to believe this was not the first time they had been guilty of stealing, though, perhaps, unknown to their parents, as I have found to be the case in other instances.
Another little boy in the school, whose mother kept a little shop, frequently brought money with him,—as much as three-pence at a time. On questioning the child how he came by it, he always said that his mother gave it to him, and I thought there was no reason to doubt his word, for there was something so prepossessing in his appearance, that, at the time, I could not doubt the truth of his story. But finding that the child spent a great deal of money in fruit, cakes, &c., and still had some remaining, I found it advisable to see the mother, and to my astonishment found it all a fiction, for she had not given him any, and we were both at a loss to conceive how he obtained it. The child told me his mother gave it to him; and he told his mother that it was given to him at school; but when he was confronted with us both, not a word would he say. It was evident, therefore, that he had obtained it by some unfair means, and we both determined to suspend our judgment, and to keep a strict eye on him in future. Nothing, however, transpired for some time;—I followed him home several times, but saw nothing amiss. At length I received notice from the mother, that she had detected taking money out of the till, in her little shop. It then came out that there was some boy in the neighbourhood who acted as banker to him, and for every two pence which he received, he was allowed one penny for taking care of it. It seems that the child was afraid to bring any more money to school, on account of being so closely questioned as to where he obtained it, and this, probably, induced him to give more to the boy than he otherwise would have done. Suffice it, however, to say, that both children at length were found out, and the mother declared that the child conducted her to some old boards in the wash-house, and underneath them there was upwards of a shilling, which he had pilfered at various times.
The reader may remember too, that during the autumn of 1833, a boy of fourteen committed suicide, and that another of the same age was convicted of the dreadful crime of murder.
It appears he knew a boy a little younger than himself, who was going to a distance with some money, and having taken a pocket-knife with him, he way-laid him and threatened to murder him. The poor little victim kneeled down,—offered him his money, his knife, and all he had, and said he would love him all the days of his life if he would spare him, and never tell what had happened; but the pathetic and forcible appeal, which would have melted many a ruffian-heart, was vain:—the little monster stabbed him in the throat, and then robbed him. On his trial he discovered no feeling, and he even heard his sentence with the utmost indifference, and without a tear.