Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 47.djvu/365

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353
STUDIES OF CHILDHOOD.

One palliative of these early terrors remains to be touched on, the instinct of sheltering or refuge-taking. The first manifestations of what is called the social nature of children are little more than the reverse side of their timidity. A baby will cease crying at night on hearing the familiar voice of mother or nurse, because a vague sense of human companionship does away with the misery of the black solitude. A frightened child probably knows an ecstasy of bliss when folded in the protective embrace of a mother's arms. Even the most timid of children never have the full experience of terror so long as there is within reach the secure base of all their reconnoitering excursions, the mother's skirts.

Happy those little ones who have ever near them loving arms within whose magic circle the oncoming of the cruel fit of terror is instantly checked, giving place to a delicious calm!

How unhappy those children must be who, timid and fearsome by Nature, lack this refuge—who are left much alone to wrestle with their horrors as best they may, and are rudely repulsed when they bear their heartquakings to others—I would not venture to say. Still less should I care to suggest what is suffered by those unfortunates who find in those about them not comfort, assurance, support in their fearsome moments, but the worst source of terror. To be brutal to these small, sensitive organisms, to practice on their terrors, to take delight in exciting the wild stare and wilder shriek of terror, this is perhaps one of the strange things which make one believe in the old dogma that the devil can enter into men and women. For here we seem to have to do with a form of cruelty so exquisite, so contrary to the oldest of instincts, that it is dishonoring to the savage and to the lower animals to attempt to refer it to heredity.

To dwell on such things, however, would be to go back to a pessimistic view of childhood. It is undeniable that children are exposed to indescribable misery when they are delivered into the hands of a consummately cruel mother or nurse. Yet one may hope that this sort of person is exceptional—something of which we can give no account save by saying that now and again in sport Nature produces a monster, as if to show what she could do if she did not choose more wisely and benignly to work within the limitations of type.



Thoreau, in relating some of his experiments in making maple sugar—when he got an ounce and a half of sugar from four quarts and a half pint of sap—says that he "had a dispute with father about the use of my making this sugar when I knew it could be done, and might have bought sugar cheaper at Holden's. He said it took me from my studies. I said I made it my study, and felt as if I had been to a university."