I have noticed before the fact of the extraordinary economy brought about by reduction in food, wine, etc.; but this is not necessarily an argument in favour of a simple diet. The money people have must go somewhere; and if they like meat and drink better than most things, but for the injury to the body it might as well go in that way as in any of the other luxuries of life which are not essentials. Much as I enjoy providing food for others, I now feel that it is anything but a true kindness to them. It is difficult to imagine the change that would come over civilisation if that most improbable of all miracles were to take place and the majority of people became non-meat-eaters. I have a note from one of Walter Bagehot's books which points out the evil of reduction in luxury. I am not political economist enough to know whether his view is generally accepted now; it is in contradiction to that of other teachers. He says: 'We must observe, what is incessantly forgotten, that it is not a Spartan and ascetic state of society which most generates saving. On the contrary, if a whole society has few wants there is little motive for saving. . . . Nothing is commoner than to read homilies on luxury. Without the multifarious accumulation of wants, which are called luxury, there would in such a state of society be far less saving than there is. And if it be good for the poor that capital should be saved, then the momentary luxury which causes that saving is good for the poor.' I spend in fruit and on the garden what I should have spent under ordinary circumstances in meat and wine, with certainly more enjoyment to myself and, perhaps, less waste.
My nieces, I believe, look upon me as a kind of witch - meant no doubt as a subtle compliment - and, now that many are married and have babies, they say they want my opinion on the important question of how to manage them. I am very fond of babies and a great admirer even of large families, now so out of fashion. In a book lately published I read the other day of a bishop at the beginning of this century who wrote to his young married daughter: 'Go on, my dear Eliza, and never fear hurting your constitution by honest child-bearing, since, for one mother that grows thin with this work, there are five hundred old maids that grow thin for want of it.' As a matter of fact, I have seen very little of nurseries of late years, but I never travel in railway carriages with babies, or look into the village perambulators, without being shocked by the universal use of those terrible modern inventions, sold by every chemist throughout the land, called 'baby comforters or soothers.' I cannot imagine any child's digestion not being weakened and injured by them. The suction is exactly the same as with the real bottle, and the waste of saliva must be excessive; so great that the flow must be much reduced when food is actually taken, and this of itself must begin the non-assimilation of food which modern children, especially those brought up by hand, suffer from so much. My objection applies to babies after they are three or four months old; before that these 'comforters' do not do much harm. But, the habit once acquired, few nurses or mothers have the courage to break it.
Every doctor I have asked has corroborated my view on this subject. A thoroughly conscientious doctor ought, I think, to refuse to attend the children of the rich where such things are used. The mothers and nurses say: 'It is such a comfort to the child, and prevents its crying, which is so dangerous.' This is the modern receipt for everything! Momentary relief and palliatives at the cost of eventual good! What makes babies cry is not only dyspepsia and discomfort, but also spoiling; that is to say, responding to that natural appeal of crying for what they want. Many a child that has been too much held in nurses' arms from its birth cries when it is laid down. That does not mean that it is bad for the child to lie down, for, if it is quite loosely dressed, this does it only good. It cries, as a dog whines, merely to express, in the only way that it can, what it wants; and if taken up directly it cries, this teaches it, by the only way it can learn, to do it again next time.
I saw some years ago a most intelligently managed baby; it was half German, half French. I was also much struck with the superior common-sense of many of the arrangements in the foreign nursery that I visited, and was told that they were the general custom in that part of the world. All babies' cots from the very beginning are firm, never rocking - which must be better. And the little mattress is made of hard, firm horsehair, not wool. On the top of this is another mattress, made of strong linen, four or five inches thick, loosely filled with husks. The pillow is also loosely filled with the same material, viz. the husks of oats, well dried and cleaned of all dust. The husks can be got from a corn or forage merchant, and - to thoroughly clean them - they should be washed in water, left to dry for some days, then well shaken out in a thin muslin bag, and also well aired. The reasons for this kind of pillow are its cleanliness, and the fact that it is much cooler and wholesomer than either wool, down, or feathers. In Germany children sleep on a husk pillow till they are seven or eight years old, and later in cases of illness. The coolness of this pillow and mattress is particularly essential, because the babies are never held in the arms of mother or nurse except when they are being fed. This is an important factor in the nursery management, especially in houses without many servants, as it makes the nurse or mother so much freer to do all that she has to do. Small babies are far too much nursed as a rule in England; a child is trained from the first by the monthly nurse to lie constantly on her knee, whereas abroad the first thing done from the very beginning is to train a baby to be perfectly content in its cot. And when the weather is fine and it goes out, it is never carried or wheeled about before it is seven or eight months old. It lies for hours in the open air as in a bed. It is very important that children of all ages should sleep on a hard flat bed, and that mattresses should be re-made whenever they get hollow. I believe that neglect of this is the cause of many round shoulders and weak spines. A husk pillow (which can be made of dried and pounded bracken Fern if the husks of oats are not available) is also used for washing a baby, on a method which I think both safer and easier than our English way. There is a large plain deal table, three sides of which are surrounded by a rim as in our wooden washstands. On the right and left of this table is placed everything the nurse is likely to require for washing the baby. On a little table next to this big one is a basket with the clothes. In the middle of the large table is placed the above-mentioned pillow covered with a piece of mackintosh sheeting, over which is laid a large bath towel. On this is placed the little naked baby, and it is then the superior advantage of this system over the English one becomes apparent. No one can see it done without appreciating how much less experienced the mother or nurse need be, as both hands are left free to soap and sponge, and wipe and powder. After being soaped, the baby is dipped, as with us, into the bath and immediately laid back again on the pillow, where it looks like one of the little Christian 'bambinos' in sugar or plaster which used to be sold in Italy at Christmastime.