not directly in the line of inquiry I am pursuing,—there is still left to us the certainty that increasing intelligence will more and more incline individuals to face the consequences of their own acts; not for duty's sake, but in order to help establish and preserve that social harmony which will be necessary to their happiness.
Even in the present semi-barbarous condition of parental relations it is exceptional, unusual, for parents to abandon their children, and the two distinct incentives to such abandonment will be removed by social evolution, leaving the discussion of the obligation of parents to care for their children purely abstract and rather unprofitable, since no one will refuse to do so.
The two motives to which I refer are poverty and fear of social obloquy. Married parents sometimes desert their children because they lack abundant means of subsistence; unmarried parents occasionally not only desert their offspring, but deny them, in order to escape the malice of the unintelligent who believe that vice is susceptible of transmutation into virtue by the blessing of a priest, and virtue into vice by the absence of the miracle-working words.
Recognition of the law of equal freedom would nearly remove the first, render the second more endurable, and finally obliterate both, leaving parents without motive for the abandonment of offspring.
That parents usually find happiness in provision for the welfare of their young is well known. Even the habits of the lower animals afford evidence sufficient to establish this position, and, for convenience, postulating it as a principle, I shall proceed to examine how far parents defeat their own aim by unintelligent pursuit of it.
Food is the first, because the indispensable, requisite to welfare, but unintelligent and indiscriminate feeding results in thousands of deaths annually and sows seeds of chronic invalidism in millions of young stomachs.
Clothing also is considered indispensable, and is so in rigorous climates, but the primary object of covering the body, which is surely to make it comfortable, is usually almost wholly forgotten in the effort to conform to accepted ideals of beauty,—ideals often involving peculiar departures from natural forms.
Shelter is a necessity which is often accompanied by such over-zealous inhospitality to fresh air as places choice between in-door and out-door life in uncertain balance.
But the sturdiest pursuits and the dreariest defeats and failures are found in educational endeavors.
The child comes into an unknown world. His blinking eyes cannot decide which is nearer, the lighted taper on the table or the moon seen through the window. He does not know that a Riverside orange is larger than the palm of his tiny hand until he has learned the truth by repeated efforts to grasp it. He has all things to learn: ideas of dimension, weight, heat, moisture, density, resistance, gravitation,—all things in their inter-relations and their relations to himself. And what bungling assistance he receives in the bewildering path through this tangle of truth!
He learns that God sends the rain, the hail, and the snow down from the sky; that his little sister was brought from heaven by an angel and deposited in a doctor's pill-bags. The tie of relationship between her and himself remains a mystery. Anthropomorphism lurks everywhere. The unseen hand moves all things. He asks many questions which his teachers cannot answer, and, unwilling to confess their ignorance, they constantly reiterate: "God did it," as if that were an answer.