The Royal Path of Life/Children
Woe to him who smiles not over a cradle, and weeps not over a tomb. He who has never tried the companionship of a little child, has carelessly passed by one of the greatest pleasures of life, as one passes a rare flower without plucking it or knowing its value. The gleeful laugh of happy children is the best home music, and the graceful figures of childhood are the best statuary. We are all kings and queens in the cradle, and each babe is a new marvel, a new miracle. The perfection of the providence for childhood is easily acknowledged. The care which covers the seed of the tree under tough husks, and stony cases provides for the human plant, the mother’s breast and the father’s house. The size of the nestler is comic, and its tiny, beseeching weakness is compensated perfectly by the one happy, patronizing look of the mother, who is a sort of high-reposing Providence to it. Welcome to the parents the puny struggler, strong in his weakness, his little arms more irresistible than the soldier’s, his lips touched with persuasion which Chatham and Pericles in manhood had not. His unaffected lamentations when he lifts up his voice on high; or, more beautiful, the sobbing child— the face all liquid grief, as he tries to swallow his vexation— soften all hearts to pity, and to mirthful and clamorous compassion. The small despot asks so little that all reason and all nature are on his side. His ignorance is more charming than all knowledge, and his little sins more bewitching than any virtue. His flesh is angel’s flesh, all alive. “ Infancy,” said Coleridge, “ presents body and spirit in unity; the body is all animated.” All day, between his three or four sleeps, he coos like a pigeon-house, sputters and spurs, and puts on his faces of importance, and when he fasts, the little Pharisee fails not to sound his trumpet before him. By lamplight, he delights in shadows on the wall; by daylight, in yellow and scarlet. Carry him out of doors— he is overpowered by the light and by the extent of natural objects, and is silent. Then presently begins his use of his fingers, and he studies power — the lesson of his race.
Not without design has God implanted in the maternal breast that strong love of their children which is felt everywhere. This lays deep and broad the foundation for the child’s future education from parental hands. Nor without designs has Christ commanded, “ Feed my lambs,”— meaning to inculcate upon his church the duty of caring for the children of the church and the world at the earliest possible period. Nor can parents and all well-wishers to humanity be too earnest and careful to fulfill the promptings of their very nature and the command of Christ in this matter. Influence is as quiet and imperceptible on the child’s mind as the falling of snowflakes on the meadow. One cannot tell the hour when the human mind is not in the condition of receiving impressions from exterior moral forces. In innumerable instances, the most secret and unnoticed influences have been in operation for months and even years to break down the strongest barriers of the human heart, and work out its moral ruin, while yet the fondest parents and friends have been unaware of the working of such unseen agents of evil. Not all at once does any heart become utterly bad. The error is in this: that parents are not conscious how early the seeds of vice are sown and take root. It is as the Gospel declares,
“While men slept, the enemy came and sowed tares, and went his way.” If this then is the error, how shall it be corrected, and what is the antidote to be applied! Never scold children, but soberly and quietly reprove. Do not employ shame except in extreme cases. The suffering is acute; it hurts self-respect in the child to reprove a child before the family; to ridicule it, to tread down its feelings ruthlessly, is to wake in its bosom malignant feelings. A child is defenseless; he is not allowed to argue. He is often tried, condemned, and executed in a second. He finds himself of little use. He is put at things he don’t care for, and withheld from things which he does like. He is made the convenience if grown-up people; is hardly supposed to have any rights, except in a corner, as it were; is sent hither and thither; made to get up or sit down for everybody’s convenience but his own; is snubbed and catechised until he learns to dodge government and elude authority, and then be whipped for being “ such a liar that no one can believe you.” They will not trouble you long. Children grow up—nothing on earth grows so fast as children. It was but yesterday, and that lad was playing with tops, a buoyant boy. He is a man, and gone now! There is no more childhood for him or for us. Life has claimed him. When a beginning is made, it is like a raveling stocking; stitch by stitch gives way till all are gone. The house has not a child in it— there is no more noise in the hall— boys rush in pell-mell; it is very orderly now. There are no more skates or sleds, bats, balls or strings left scattered about. Things are neat enough now. There is no delay for sleepy folks; there is no longer any task, before you lie down, of looking after anybody, and tucking up the bedclothes. There are no disputes to settle, nobody to get off to school, no complaint, no opportunities for impossible things, no rips to mend, no fingers to tie up, no faces to be washed, or collars to be arranged. There never was such peace in the house! It would sound like music to have some feet to clatter down the front stairs! Oh for some children’s noise! W hat used to ail us, that we were hushing their loud laugh, checking their noisy frolic, and reproving their slamming and banging the doors? We wish our neighbors would only lend us an urchin or two to make a little noise in these premises. A home without children! It is like a lantern and no candle; a garden and no flowers; a vine and no grapes; a brook and no water gurgling and gushing in its channel. We want to be tired, to be vexed, to be run over, to hear children at work with all its varieties.
Bishop Earle says: “ A child is man in a small letter, yet the best copy of Adam, before he tasted of Eve or the apple; and he is happy whose small practice in the world can only write his character. His soul is yet a white paper unscribbled with observations of the world, wherewith, at length, it becomes a blurred note-book. He is purely happy, because he knows no evil, nor hath made means by sin to be acquainted with misery. He arrives not at the mischief of being wise, nor endures evils to come, by foreseeing them. He kisses and loves all, and, when the smart of the rod is past, smiles on his beater. The older he grows, he is a stair lower from God. He is the Christian’s example, and the old man’s relapse; the one imitates his pureness, and the other falls into his simplicity. Could he put off his body with his little coat, he had got eternity without a burden, and exchanged but one heaven for another.”
Children are more easily led to be good by examples of loving kindness, and tales of well-doing in others, than threatened into obedience by records of sin, crime and punishment. Then, on the infant mind impress sincerity, truth, honesty, benevolence and their kindred virtues, and the welfare of your child will be insured not only during this life, but the life to come. Oh, what a responsibility to form a creature, the frailest and feeblest that heaven has made, into the intelligent and fearless sovereign of the whole animated creation, the interpreter and adorer and almost the representative of Divinity.