Popular Science Monthly/Volume 47/July 1895/Studies of Childhood IX
|STUDIES OF CHILDHOOD.|
GROTE PROFESSOR OF THE PHILOSOPHY OF MIND AND LOGIC AT THE UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, LONDON.
IN my last article I gave a general account of children's fears. In this account I purposely reserved for special discussion two varieties of this fear—namely, dread of animals and of the dark. As the former certainly manifests itself before the latter, I will take it first.
It seems odd that the creatures which are to become the companions and playmates of children, and one of the chief sources of their happiness, should cause so much alarm when they first come on the scene. Yet so it is. Many children at least are at first put out by quite harmless members of the animal family. We must, however, be careful in distinguishing between mere nerve-shock and dislike, on the one hand, and genuine fear on the other. Thus a lady whom I know as a good observer tells me that, though when her boy was fifteen months old his nerves were shaken by the loud barking of a dog, he had no real fear of dogs. With this may be contrasted another case, also sent by a good observer, in which it is specially noted that the aversion to the sound of a dog's barking developed late and was a true fear.
Æsthetic dislikes, again, may easily give rise to quasi fears, though, as we all know, little children have not the horrors of their elders in this respect. The boy C—— could not understand his mother's scare at the descending caterpillar. A kind of aesthetic dislike appears to show itself sometimes toward animals of peculiar shape and color. Black animals, as sheep and cows, seem more particularly to come in for these childish antipathies.
At first it seems impossible to understand why a child in the fourteenth week should appear to shrink from cats. This is not, so far as I can gather, a common occurrence at this age, and one would like to cross-examine the mother as to the precise way in which the child had its first introduction to the domestic pet. So far as one can speculate on the matter, one would say that such early shrinking from animals is probably due to their sudden unexpected movements, which may well disconcert the inexperienced infant accustomed to comparatively restful surroundings.
This seems borne out by another instance, also quoted by Preyer, of a girl who, in the fourth month, as also in the eleventh, was so afraid of pigeons that she could not bring herself to stroke them. The prettiness of pigeons, if not of cats, ought, one supposes, to insure the liking of children; and one has to fall back on the supposition of the first disconcerting strangeness of the moving animal world for the child's mind.
Later shrinkings from animals show more of the nature of fear. It is sometimes said that children inherit from their ancestors the fear of certain animals. Thus Darwin, observing that his boy, when taken to the zoölogical gardens at the age of two years and three months, showed fear of the big caged animals, whose form was unfamiliar to him (lions, tigers, etc.), infers that this fear is transmitted from savage ancestors whose conditions of life compelled them to shun these deadly creatures. But, as M. Compayré has well shown, we do not need this hypothesis here. The unfamiliarity of the form, the bigness, together with the awful suggestions of the cage, would be quite enough to beget a vague sense of danger.
So far as I can ascertain, facts are strongly opposed to the theory of inherited fear of animals. Just as in the first months a child will manifest something like recoil from a pretty and perfectly innocent pigeon, so later on children manifest fear in the most unlikely directions. In The Invisible Playmate we are told of a girl who got into her first fright on seeing a sparrow drop on the grass near her, though she was not the least afraid of big things, and on first hearing the dog bark in his kennel said, with a little laugh of surprise, "Oh! coughing." A parallel case is sent me by a lady friend. One day when her daughter was about four years old she found her standing, the eyes wide open and filled with tears, the arms outstretched for help, evidently transfixed with terror, while a small wood louse made its slow way toward her. The next day the child was taken for the first time to the "Zoo," and the mother, anticipating trouble, held her hand. But there was no need. A "fearless spirit" in general, she released her hand at the first sight of the elephant, and galloped after the monster. If inheritance plays a principal part in the child's fear of animals, one would have expected the facts to be reversed. The elephant should have excited dread, not the harmless insect.
As this story tells us, children's shrinkings from animals have much of the caprice of grown-up people's. Not that there is anything really inexplicable in these odd directions of childish fear, any more than in the unpredictable shyings of the horse. If we knew the whole of the horse's history, and could keep a perfect register of the fluctuations of "tone" in his nervous system, we should understand all his shyings. So with the child. All the vagaries of his dislike to animals would be cleared up if we could look into the secret workings of his mind and measure the varying heights of his courage.
That some of this early disquietude at the sight of strange animals is due to the workings of the mind is seen in the behavior of Preyer's boy when at the age of twenty-seven months he was taken to see some little pigs. The boy on the first view looked earnest, and as soon as the lively little creatures began to suckle the mother he broke out into a fit of crying and turned away from the sight with all the signs of fear. It appeared afterward that what terrified the child was the idea that the pigs were biting their mother; and this gave rise in the fourth and fifth year to recurrent nocturnal fears of the biting piglets, something like C——'s nocturnal fear of the wolf. To an imaginative child strongly predisposed to fear, anything suggestive of harm will suffice to beget a measure of trepidation. A child does not want direct experience of the power of a big animal in order to feel a vague uneasiness when near it. His own early inductions respecting the correlation of bigness and strength, aided as this commonly is by information picked up from ethers, will amply suffice. To this may be added that the swiftness of movement of the dog, as well as the knowledge soon gained that it can bite, is apt to make this animal especially alarming. So, too, the sudden pouncing down of a sparrow might prove upsetting as suggesting attack; and a girl of four may be quite able to imagine the unpleasantness of an invasion of her dainty person by a small creeping wood louse which, though running slowly, was running toward herself, and so to get a fit of shudders.
It is, I think, undeniable that imaginative children, especially when sickly and disposed to alarm, are subject to great terror at the thoughts of the animal world. Its very vastness, the large variety of its uncanny and savage-looking forms, appearing oftentimes as ugly distortions of the human face and figure—this of itself, as known from a picture book, may well generate many a vague terror. We know from folklore how the dangers of the animal world have touched the imagination of primitive races, and we need not be surprised that it should make the heart of the wee weakly child to quake. Yet the child's shrinking from animals is less strong than the impulse of companionship which bears it toward them. Nothing is prettier perhaps in child-life than the pose and look of a small boy as he is getting over his trepidation at the approach of a strange big dog and "making friends" with the shaggy monster. The perfect love which lies at the bottom of children's hearts toward their animal kinsfolk soon casts out fear; and when once the reconciliation has been effected it will take a good deal of harsh experience to make the child ever again entertain fear.
Fear of the dark—that is, fear excited by the actual experience or the idea of being in the dark, and especially alone—and the actual dread of dark places, as closets and caves, is, no doubt, very common among children, and seems indeed to be one of their commonly recognized characteristics. Yet it is by no means certain that it is "natural" in the sense of developing itself instinctively in all children.
It is generally agreed that children have no such fear at the beginning of life. A baby of three or four months, if accustomed to a light, may very likely be disturbed at being deprived of it; but this is some way from a dread of the dark.
Fear of the dark seems to come on when intelligence has reached a certain stage of development. It apparently assumes a variety of forms. In some children it is a vague uneasiness, in others it takes the shape of a more definite dread. A common variety of this dread is connected with the imaginative filling of the dark with the forms of alarming animals, so that the fear of animals and of the dark are closely connected. Thus in one case reported to me a boy between the ages of two and six used at night to see "the eyes of lions and tigers glaring as they walked round the room." The boy C—— saw his bête noire the wolf in dark places. Mr. Stevens, in his note on his boy's ideas of the supernatural, remarks that when one year and ten months old he was temporarily seized with a fear of the dark at the time when he began to be haunted by the specter of "Cocky." It is important to add that even children who have been habituated to going to bed in the dark in the first months are liable to acquire the fear.
This mode of fear is, however, not universal among children. One lady, for whose accuracy I can vouch, assures me that her boy, now four years old, has never manifested a dread of darkness. A similar statement is made by a careful observer, Dr. Sikorski, with reference to his own children. It seems possible to go through childhood without making acquaintance with this terror, and to acquire it in later life. I know a lady who only acquired the fear toward the age of thirty. "Curiously enough" she writes, "I was never afraid of the dark as a child; but during the last two years I hate to be left alone in the dark, and if I have to enter a dark room, like my study, beyond the reach of the maids from downstairs, I notice a remarkable acceleration in my heartbeat and hurry to strike a light or rush downstairs as quickly as possible."
There is little doubt that when the fear is developed it is apt to become one of the greatest miseries of childhood. We can faintly conjecture, from what Charles Lamb and others have told us about the specters that haunted their nights, what a weighty, crushing terror this may become. Hence, we need not be surprised that the writer of fiction has sought to give it a vivid and adequate description. Victor Hugo, for example, when painting the feelings of little Cosette, who had been sent out alone at night to fetch water from a spring in the wood, says she "felt herself seized by the black enormity of Nature. It was not only terror which possessed her, it was something more terrible even than terror."
Different explanations have been offered of this fear. Locke, who, when writing on educational matters, was rather hard on nurses and servants, puts down the whole of these fears to these wicked persons, "whose usual method is to awe children and keep them in subjection by telling them of Raw Head and Bloody Bones, and such other names as carry with them the idea of something terrible and hurtful, which they have reason to be afraid of when alone, especially in the dark." Rousseau, on the other hand, urges that there is a natural cause. "Accustomed as I am to perceive objects from a distance, and to anticipate their impressions in advance, how is it possible for me, when I no longer see anything of the objects that surround me, not to imagine a thousand creatures, a thousand movements which may hurt me, and against which I am unable to protect myself?"
Rousseau here supplements and corrects Locke. For one thing, I have ascertained in the case of my own child, and in that of others, that a fear of the dark has grown up when the influence of the wicked nurse has been carefully eliminated. Locke forgets that children can get terrifying fancies from other children and from all sorts of suggestions unwittingly conveyed by the words of respectable grown people. Besides, he leaves untouched the question why children should choose to dwell on these fearful images in the dark rather than on the bright, pretty ones which they also acquire. Mr. R. L. Stevenson has told us how happy a child can make himself at night with such pleasing fancies. Yet it must be owned that darkness seems rather to favor images of what is weird and terrible. How is this? Rousseau gets some way toward answering the question by saying (as I understand him to say) that darkness breeds a sense of insecurity. Not that a child lying in his cot is likely to be troubled that he can not see what is at the other end of the room. I do not think that it is the inconvenience of being in the dark which generates the fear; a child might, I imagine, acquire it without ever having had to explore a dark place.
I strongly suspect that the fear of darkness takes its rise in a sensuous phenomenon, a kind of physical repugnance. All sensations of very low intensity, as very soft vocal sounds, have about them a tinge of melancholy—tristesse—and this is especially noticeable in the sensations which the eye experiences when confronted with a dark space, or, what is tantamount to this, a black and dull surface. The symbolism of darkness and blackness, as when we talk of "gloomy" thoughts, or liken trouble to a "black cloud," seems to rest on this effect of melancholy.
Along with this gloomy character of the sensation of dark, and not always easy to distinguish from it, there goes the craving of the eye for its customary light, and all the interest and gladness which come from seeing. When the eye and brain are not fatigued—that is, when we are wakeful—this eye-ache may become an appreciable pain; and it is probable that children feel the deprivation more acutely than grown persons, owing to the abundance of their visual activity as well as to the comparatively scanty store of their thought resources. Add to this that darkness, by extinguishing the world of visible things, would give to a timid child tenacious of the familiar home surroundings a peculiarly keen sense of strangeness and of loneliness, of banishment from all that it knows and loves. The reminiscences of this feeling, described in later life—as that of Mr. James Payn, in his recently published volume, Gleams of Memory—show that it is the sense of loneliness which oppresses the child in its dark room.
This, I take it, would be quite enough to make the situation of confinement in a dark room disagreeable and depressing to a wakeful child even when in bed and there is no restriction of bodily activity. But this sense of banishment through the blotting out of the familiar scene would not, I take it, amount to a full, passionate dread of darkness. It seems to me to be highly probable that a baby of two or three months might feel something of this vague depression and even this craving for the wonted scene, especially just after the removal of a light; yet such a baby, as we have seen, gives no clear indications of fear.
Fear of the dark arises from the development of the child's imagination, and might, I believe, arise without any suggestion from nurse or other children of the notion that there are bogies in the dark. Darkness is precisely the situation most favorable to vivid imagination; the screening of the visible world makes the inner world of fancy bright by contrast. Are we not all apt to shut our eyes when we try to "visualize" or picture things very distinctly? This fact of a preternatural activity of imagination, taken with the circumstance emphasized by Rousseau that in the darkness the child is no longer distinctly aware of the objects that are actually before him, would help us to understand why children are so much given to projecting into the unseen, dark spaces the creatures of the imagination. Not only so—and this Rousseau does not appear to have recognized—the dull feeling of depression which accompanies the sensation of darkness might suffice to give a gloomy and weird turn to the images so projected.
But I am disposed to think that there is yet another element in this childish fear. I have said that darkness gives a positive sensation: we see it; and the sensation, apart from any difference of signification which we afterward learn to give to it, is of the same kind that is obtained by looking at a dull, black surface. To the child the difference between a black object and dark, unillumined space is as yet not clear, and I believe it will be found that children tend to materialize, or, to use a rather technical word, "reify"—that is, make a thing of darkness. When, for example, a correspondent tells me that darkness was envisaged by her when a child as a crushing power, I think I see traces of this childish feeling. I seem able to recall my own childish sense of a big black something on suddenly waking and opening the eyes in a very dark room.
But there is still something else to be noticed in this sensation of darkness. The black field is not uniform, some parts of it showing less black than others, and the indistinct and rude pattern of comparatively light and dark changing from moment to moment, while now and again more definite spots of brightness may form themselves. The varying activity of the retina would seem to account for this apparent changing of the dark scene. What, my reader may not unnaturally ask, has this to do with a child's fear of the dark? If he will recall what was said about the facility with which a child comes to see faces and animal forms in the lines of a cracked ceiling or the veining of a piece of marble, he will, I think, recognize the drift of my remarks. These slight and momentary differences of blackness, these fleeting rudiments of a pattern, may serve as a sensuous base for the projected images: the child's excited fancy sees in these faint differentiations of the black, formless waste definite forms. These will naturally be the forms with which he is most familiar, and since his fancy is tinged with melancholy they will, of course, be gloomy and disturbing forms. Hence we may expect to hear of children seeing the forms of terrifying living things in the dark. Here is an instructive case. A boy of four years had for some time been afraid of the dark, and indulged by having the candle left burning at night. On hearing that the London Crystal Palace had been burned down he asked for the first time to have the light taken away, fear of the dark being now cast out by the bigger fear of fire. Some time after this he volunteered an account of his obsolete terrors to his father. "Do you know," he said, "what I thought dark was? A great, large, live thing, the color of black, with a mouth and eyes." Here we have the "reifying" of darkness, and we probably see the influence of the comparatively bright spots in the attribution of eyes to the monster, an influence still more apparent in the instance quoted above, where a child saw the eyes of lions and tigers glaring as they walked round the room. Another suggestive instance here is that given by M. Compayré, in which a child, on being asked why he did not like to be in a dark place, answered, "I don't like chimney-sweeps." Here the blackness with its dim suggestions of brighter spots determined the image of the black chimney-sweep with his white flashes of mouth and eyes.. I should like to observe here parenthetically that we still need to learn from children themselves, by talking to them and inviting their confidence when the fear of the dark is first noticed, how they are apt to envisage it.
When imagination becomes abnormally active, and the child is haunted by alarming images, these, by recurring with greatest force in the stillness and darkness of the night, will add to the terrifying associations of darkness. This is illustrated in the case of the boy Stevens, who was haunted by the specter of "Cocky" at night. Dreams, especially the horrible nightmare to which nervous children are subject, may invest the dark with a new terror. A child suddenly waking up, and with open eyes seeing the phantom-object of its dream against the dark background, may be forgiven for acquiring a dread of dark rooms. Possibly this experience gives the clew to the observation already quoted of a boy who did not want to sleep in a particular room because there were so many dreams in it.
If the above explanation of the child's fear of the dark is correct, Rousseau's prescription for curing it is not enough. Children may be encouraged to explore dark rooms and, by touching blindlike the various objects, rendered familiar with the fact that things remain unchanged even when enveloped in darkness—that the dark is nothing but our temporary inability to see things; and this may, no doubt, be helpful in checking the fear when reflection is possible. But a radical cure must go further, must aim at checking the activity of morbid imagination and here what Locke says about effects of the terrifying stories of nurses is very much to the point—and in extreme cases must set about strengthening shaky nerves.
I have probably illustrated children's fears at sufficient length. Without trying to exhaust the subject I have, I think, shown that fear of a well-marked and intense kind is a common feature of the first years of life, and that it assumes a Protean variety of shapes.
Much more will, no doubt, have to be done in the way of methodical observation, and more particularly statistical inquiry into the comparative frequency of the several fears, the age at which they commonly appear, and so forth, before we can build up a theory of the subject. One or two general observations may, however, be hazarded even at this stage.
The thing which strikes one most, perhaps, in these early fears is how little they have to do with any remembered experience of evil. The child is inexperienced and, if humanely treated, knows little of the acute forms of human suffering. It would seem at least as if he feared, not because experience has made him apprehensive of evil, but because he is constitutionally and instinctively nervous, and possessed with a feeling of insecurity. This feeling of weakness and insecurity comes to the surface in presence of what is unknown, in so far as this can be brought by the child's mind into a relation to his welfare—as disturbing noises and the movements of things, especially when they take on the form of an approach. The same thing is, as we have seen, illustrated in the fear of the dark. This fact, that children's fears are not the direct product of experience, is expressed otherwise by saying that they are the offspring of the imagination. They are afraid because they fancy things, and it will probably be demonstrated by statistical evidence that the most imaginative children (other things being equal) are the most subject to fear.
In certain of these characteristics, at least, children's fears resemble those of animals. In both alike fear is much more an instinctive recoil from the unknown than an apprehension of known evil. The shying of a horse, the apparent fear of dogs at certain noises, probably, too, the fear of animals at the sight and sound of fire—so graphically described by Mr. Kipling in the case of the jungle beasts—illustrate this. Animals, too, seem to have a sense of the uncanny when something apparently uncaused happens, as when Romanes excited fear in a dog by attaching a fine thread to a bone which he was accustomed to drag about with him and, by surreptitiously drawing it from him, giving to the bone the look of self-movement. The same dog was frightened by soap bubbles. According to Romanes, dogs are frightened by portraits. It is to be added, however, that in animal fears the influence of heredity is clearly recognizable, whereas in children's fears I have regarded it as doubtful.
Another instructive comparison is that of children's fears with those of savages. Both have a like feeling of insecurity and fall instinctively in presence of a big unknown—e.g., at the first sight of the sea—into the attitude of dread. In the region of superstitious fear more particularly we see how in both a gloomy fancy forestalls knowledge, investing the new or unexplored with alarming traits.
Lastly, children's fears have some resemblance to certain abnormal mental conditions. Idiots, who are so near normal childhood in their degree of intelligence, show a marked fear of strangers. More interesting, however, in the present connection is the exaggeration of the childish fear of new objects which shows itself in certain mental aberrations. There is a characteristic dread of newness, "neophobia," just as there is a dread of water.
While, however, these are the dominant characteristics of children's fears, they are not the only ones. Experience begins to direct the instinctive fear impulse from the very beginning. How much it does in the first months of life it is difficult to say. In the aversion of a baby to its medicine glass or its cold bath one sees perhaps more of the rude germ of passion or anger than of fear. Careful observations seem to me to be required on this point, at what definite date signs of fear arising from experience of pain begin to show themselves in the child. Some children at least have a surprising way of not minding even considerable amounts of physical pain—the misery of a fall, a blow, a cut, and so forth, being speedily forgotten. It seems doubtful, indeed, whether the venerable saw, "The burned child dreads the fire," is invariably true. In many cases apparently a good amount of real agony is necessary to produce a genuine fear in a young child. This tendency to belittle pain is not unknown, I suspect, to the tutor of small boys. It may well be that a definite and precise recalling of the misery of a scratch or even of a moderate burn may not conduce to the development of a true fear, and that here, too, fear, when it arises in all its characteristic masterfulness, is at bottom fear of the unknown. This seems illustrated by the well-known fact that a child will often be more terrified by a first experience of pain, especially if there is a visible hurt and bleeding, than by any subsequent prospect of a renewal of the catastrophe. Is not the same thing true, indeed, of older fears? Should we dread the wrench of a tooth extraction if we experienced it often enough and had a sufficiently photographic imagination to be able to estimate precisely the intensity and duration of the pain?
Much the same thing shows itself in the cases where fear can be clearly traced to experience and association. In some of these it is, no doubt, remembered experience of suffering which causes fear. A child that has been seriously burned will dread a too close approach to a red-hot poker. But in many cases of this excitation of fear by association it is the primary experience of fear itself which is at the bottom of the apprehension. Thus a child who has been frightened by a dog will betray signs of fear at the sight of a kennel, at a picture of a dog, and so forth. The little boy referred to above, who was afraid of the toy elephant that shook its head, showed signs of fear a fortnight afterward on coming across a picture of an elephant in a picture book. In such ways does fear propagate fear in the timid little breast.
One can not part from the theme of children's fears without a reference to a closely connected subject, the problem of their happiness. To ask whether childhood is a happy time, still more to ask whether it is the happiest, is to raise perhaps a foolish and insoluble question. Later reminiscences are in this case rather treacherous evidence to build upon. Children themselves, no doubt, may have very definite views on the subject. A child will tell you with the unmistakable marks of profound conviction that he is so unhappy. But, paradoxical as it may seem, children really know very little about the matter. At the best they can only tell you how they feel at particular moments. To seek for a precise and satisfactory solution of the problem is thus futile. Only rough comparisons of childhood and later life are possible.
In any such comparison the fears of early years claim, no doubt, careful consideration. There seem to be people who have no idea what the agony of these early terrors amounts to. And since it is the unknown that excites this fear—and the unknown in childhood is almost everything—the possibilities of suffering from this source are great enough:
Alike the good, the ill offend thy sight,
And rouse the stormy sense of shrill affright."
George Sand hardly exaggerates when she writes, "Fear is, I believe, the greatest moral suffering of children." In the case of weakly, nervous, and imaginative children, more especially, this susceptibility to terror may bring miserable days and yet more miserable nights.
Nevertheless, it is easy here to pass from one extreme of brutal indifference to another of sentimental exaggeration. Childish suffering is terrible while it lasts, but happily it has a way of not lasting. The cruel, distorting fit of terror passes and leaves the little face with its old sunny outlook. It is not remembered, too, that although children are pitiably fearful in their own way, they are, as we have seen in the case of the little Walter Scott, delightfully fearless also as judged by our standards. How oddly fear and fearlessness go together is illustrated in a story sent me. A little boy fell into a brook. On his being fished out by his mother, his sister, aged four, asked him, "Did you see any crocodiles?" "No" answered the boy, "I wasn't in long enough." The absence of fear of the water itself was as characteristic as the fear of the crocodile.
It is refreshing to find that in certain cases, at least, where older people have done their worst to excite terror, a child has escaped its suffering. Prof. Barnes tells us that a Californian child's belief in the supernatural takes on a happy tone, directing itself to images of heaven, with trees, birds, and other pretty things, and giving but little heed to the horrors of hell. In less sunny climes than California children may not perhaps be such little optimists, and it is probable that graphic descriptions of hell fire have sent many a creepy thrill of horror along a child's tender nerves. Still, it may be said that, owing to the fortunate circumstance that children have much less fear of fire than many animals, the imagery in which eternal punishment is wont to be bodied forth does not work so powerfully as one might expect on a child's imagination. Then it is noticeable that children in general are but little affected by fear at the sight or the thought of death. The child C—— had a passing dread of being buried, but his young, hopeful heart refused to credit the fact of that far-off calamity. This, too, is no small deduction to be made from the burden of children's fear.
Not only so, when fear is apt to be excited, Nature has provided the small, timorous person with other instincts which tend to mitigate and even to neutralize it. It is a happy circumstance that the most prolific excitant of fear, the presentation of something new and uncanny, is also provocative of another feeling—that of curiosity, with its impulse to look and examine. Even animals are sometimes divided in the presence of something strange between fear and curiosity; and children's curiosity is much more lively than theirs. A very tiny child, on first making acquaintance with some form of physical pain, as a bump on the head, will deliberately repeat the experience by knocking its head against something, as if experimenting and watching the effect. A clearer case of curiosity overpowering fear is that of a child who, after pulling the tail of a cat in a bush and getting scratched, proceeded to dive into the bush again. Still more interesting here are the gradual transitions from actual fear before the new and strange to bold inspection. The behavior of one of these small persons on the arrival at his house of a strange dog, of a colored foreigner, Hindu, or some. other startling novelty, is a pretty and amusing sight. The first overpowering shyness and shrinking back to the mother's breast, followed by cautious peeps, then by bolder outreachings of head and arms, mark the stages by which curiosity and interest gain on fear and finally leave it far behind. Very soon we know the small, timorous creatures will grow into bold, adventurous lads, loving nothing so much as to probe the awful mysteries of flame and gunpowder and other alarming things.
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.
- Quoted by Preyer, op. cit., p. 127. The word he uses is "scheuen."
- Evolution intellectuelle et morale de l'Enfant, p. 102.
- See pp. 26, 27.
- See Preyer, op. cit., p. 130.
- A mother sends me a curious observation bearing on this. One of her children when four months old was carried by her upstairs in the dark. On reaching the light she found the child's face black, her hands clinched, and her eyes protruding. As soon as the child got back to the light she heaved a sigh and resumed her usual appearance. This child was in general hardy and bold and never gave a second display of terror. This is certainly a curious observation, and it would be well to know whether similar cases of apparent fright at being carried in the dark have been noticed.
- Mind, xi, p. 149.
- Quoted by Compayré, op. cit., p. 100.
- Thoughts on Education, § 138.
- Émile, Book II.
- Op. cit., pp. 100, 101.
- It is supposable too that disturbance of the retina giving rise to subjective luminous sensations, as the well-known small bright moving disks, might assist in the case of nervous children in suggesting glaring eyes
- On animal fears, see Romanes, Animal Intelligence, p. 455 f.; Preyer, op. cit., p. 127 ff. and p. 135; Perez, First Three Years of Childhood, p. 64 ff.
- See Compayré, op. cit., pp. 99, 100.
- On this point there are some excellent observations made by Miss Shinn, who points out that physical pain, when not too severe, is apt to be lost sight of in the new feeling; of personal consequence to which it gives rise. Notes on the Development of a Child, Part II, p. 144 ff.
- Pedagogic Review, ii, 3, p. 445.
- Some examples are given by Preyer, op. cit., p. 135.
- Miss Shinn, op. cit., p. 150.