Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 31.djvu/818

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but they often show more than an entire apathy, even an actual pleasure, at the sight of pain inflicted upon animals; and some, with whom we need not now concern ourselves, take a delight that to grown people seems almost fiendish in tormenting their weaker playfellows.

Of course, there are to be found instances, as rare as they are delightful, of highly sympathetic children; but such are to be discriminated from the ordinary run of boys. The children who habitually show this spirit are to be reckoned as moral prodigies, far above the common level; and they are no more to be compared in point of morality with ordinary healthy boys than in point of intellectual power John Stuart Mill, reading Lucan and Plato in his eighth year, is to be compared with the primary pupils struggling through the mysteries of "carrying" and "borrowing." Boys of fourteen who share our feeling of pain at the useless shooting of a bluebird, who have no instinctive impulse to maim a ground-squirrel by a well-aimed shot from a sling, are examples of moral precocity. Like intellectual precocity, this may be very enjoyable to the family in which it occurs; but the probability is, that it is the accompaniment of some unhealthy state, which may be entirely unobserved by the child's admiring but undiscriminating friends. On the subject of intellectual precocity, thanks to the able and tireless efforts of the apostles of the "new education," many people now have sound notions, and the more sensible mothers and fathers among us no longer desire to model their boys after the pattern of the young Macaulay or Pascal. Indeed, not a few of them have come to so enlightened a state that they actually feel some wholesome alarm lest their "intellectual early risers," as Professor Huxley has wittily said, should "be conceited all the forenoon of life and stupid all the afternoon." But, while the judicious have thus become satisfied to see a child's mental powers rise slowly and healthily from the first faint glimmer of intelligence to whatever degree of vigor and brilliancy his endowment may enable them to reach, yet very many people whom we can not class among the Boeotians, and who count most of the authors of children's literature among their number, seem confidently to expect a boy's moral nature, long before his legs have outgrown his knickerbockers, to burst forth with almost the fervor of Mr. Bergh's ebullient conscience. Doubtless they are inexpressibly shocked when they learn, as in the course of things they soon must, that the humane inpulse is as soundly dormant in the breast of their ten-year-old offspring as in the bosom of a Fuegian or a Guacho.

But, when all the circumstances are considered, it will perhaps appear that moral precocity is no more to be desired than intellectual precocity, because the existence of either indicates that the development of the child in which it appears is abnormal. An early appearance of the sympathies depends upon an early development of mental functions, which properly are dormant until later in life; and pre-