Photo, Lallie Charles
Simplicity is one of the charms of childhood, and simple, plain things enhance the beauty of children. Even rich people realise this, and they constantly dress their little ones in the simplest, plainest things, which have every bit as beautifying an effect as satins or silks.
Anyone who desires to see the beauty of simplicity should go to one of our roof-garden nurseries where all the children are uniformly dressed in blue serge. They look lovely - and blue serge is well within the means of everyone.
While it is possible to develop and augment a child's beauty by proper care, which means increased health and vitality, and helps the little one to grow up into a stronger, healthier boy or girl, I must not forget the influence which heredity plays in determining beauty of features. That is, perhaps, a matter of luck. In my opinion, it does not depend only on a beautiful father and mother. The parents of that father and mother should be beautiful, too, and the parents of those parents. While, as I said just now, the child with the most beautiful face I have ever seen was an Italian, the most beautiful child all round is, undoubtedly, a little English lad whose parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were all handsome, well developed men and women. That is, no doubt, an exceptional case, but infancy and childhood are so adaptable, so readily responsive to outside influences, that much can be done to increase the beauty of every child. As I have already indicated, we see this constantly at our nurseries. Where they have been established for the longest time we get the best developed, and, consequently, the prettiest children. The reason is that the mother comes under the influence of the matron, and those attached to the institution, and, as they get to know the advantages to be derived from following out the instructions to be obtained from those who have made child life their particular study, they come for advice and follow it out to the utmost of their power.
These day nurseries, of which we now have fifty-five in different parts of the country, bring up beautiful babies who will grow up into beautiful children and beautiful men and women.
Now, in developing beauty through health, the day nurseries are doing a national work. All the same, I am opposed to the idea of the day nurseries being taken over by the State, for, as I have said elsewhere, dealing with infant life is a more intimate and more homely undertaking than can be managed by a central body with endless committees, and the loving care and real interest displayed by the members of the creche committees is too valuable an asset to be swallowed up in the vortex of councils.
I hope, therefore, to see these creches or nurseries increase in number as time goes by, for it is not a fact, as some people believe, that the care they offer makes it easier for the mother to leave her home and neglect her children. In all my long experience I have only known three cases in which the mother has preferred to go out to work instead of remaining at home and looking after her children when it was possible to do so. A woman's instinct is to keep her home nice. Women bring their children to the nurseries only when they are compelled; and how much better is that for the little ones than to be tied to legs of tables, or put to bed with the door locked on them for hours at a time, or even turned into the streets to manage as well as they can.
On the mothers themselves the creches have a humanising effect, for even those who seem most hardened in neglect begin to take a pride in their children when they find the dirty, whining baby left by them in the morning is returned to them in the evening clean, well fed, and happy, and pretty with the charm of babyhood. After a few days, they bring the baby clean instead of dirty. And the habit thus inculcated in them soon becomes second nature.
There is one factor which makes for beautiful children on which stress must be laid. This is the advantage to be gained by the mother nursing her baby herself. Few women among those who read Every Woman's Encyclopaedia, however, can have any knowledge of the conditions under which tens of thousands of the mothers of the poorer classes have to exist, or how little light on the mountain there is for them. No one knows how wonderful the mothers of England are. Their faults are that they are unthrifty and slipshod, but these are due to lack of education rather than to anything else. It is their devotion to their babies, even in the most distressing conditions, which makes it possible for me to assert that the most beautiful children in the world are, undoubtedly, the English.