Is there anything more pathetic in three lines than these - by Blake - or more terribly true? Think of all the half-castes all over the world, not to mention our own cities!
The Angel that presided o'er my birth
Said, 'Little creature, formed of joy and mirth,
Go, live without the help of anything on earth.'
It is the non-understanding of children makes the difficulty. The following poem by Mrs. Deamer will give a stab, I think, to many a young mother. Maternal love often wants cultivating, and does not come naturally to many young women; of this I am sure. And though they learn many things, they seem to think being a good mother comes by instinct or not at all. This is not true. Besides, the apparently devoted mother may want quite as much training and self-cultivation as the indifferent one; perhaps more so, as she takes more responsibility on herself, and so, possibly, deprives the child of being looked after by someone else.
I think the world is really sad,
I can do nothing but annoy; For little boys are all born bad,
And I am born a little boy.
It doesn't matter what the game, Whether it's Indians, trains, or ball;
I always know I am to blame, If I amuse myself at all.
I said one day on mother's knee:
If you would send us right away To foreign lands across the sea, You wouldn't see us every day.
We shouldn't worry any more
In those strange lands with queer new toys; But here we stamp, and play, and war, And wear your life out with our noise.
'The savages would never mind,
And you'd be glad to have us go There; nobody would be unkind,
For you dislike your children so.'
Then mother turned and looked quite red, I do not think she could have heard;
She put me off her knee instead Of answering me a single word.
She went, and did not even nod.
What had I said that could annoy? Mothers are really very odd
If you are born a little boy.
I could go on quoting for ever from Mr. Quick's book, but why should I when it is within reach of all? His last sentence is: 'The duty of each generation is to gather up the inheritance from the past, and then to serve the present and prepare better things for the future.' How can there be a better motto for young or old?
The Kindergarten system, when well carried out, seems to be the best method of teaching children under seven, and a Kindergarten child has more thoughtful independence than other children. I once tried to make a boy of five clean his teeth, but he was rebellious that night, and in an unguarded moment I said he must. So after standing some time beside him I said: 'I do not know how long you mean to keep me here, but I can't give in now I have said you must.' The child answered quite calmly: 'Well, it is odd, mother, you should say that, as it is exactly what I feel.' And then we came in some way to an amiable compromise which hurt no one's dignity. It is so idiotic in the management of children to give direct orders which they do not understand and which appear to them as unreasonable tyranny. A mother had better command by example, not by authority. Subjection and blind obedience are all wrong, and result from what is quite a mistaken idea of the evolution of the universe. 'Every human being has a claim to a judicious development of his faculties by those to whom the care of his infancy is confided.'
Teeth cleaning of children used to be thought rather an unnecessary tyranny. It has assumed different proportions now, and it ought to be seen to in all schools. A great many people will be surprised to learn that often would-be recruits are rejected on the ground of bad teeth. It is no better with officers, and cases are common in which candidates after an expensive preparation have failed to pass their 'medical' on account of deficient dentures. In an examination of 10,000 of British children of an average age of twelve years, eighty-five per cent. required operative treatment. One more example that the ordinary food of the present day is not conducive to the health of the human race. Improvement in teeth and gums is one of the most marked and satisfactory symptoms experienced by people who take to the health-giving food recommended by Dr. Haig.
I find among my old letters this anecdote of a young mother trying to give religious instruction to a delicate little girl of two and a half: 'M - is a sweetly good, dear child and in better spirits than usual, which is a good sign. I was trying the other day to convey some notion of a Creator to her mind. She started with pure Atheism - that nobody made the trees, etc. Having made her understand her clothes must be made, and dinner prepared by somebody, she seemed to accept the notion of "God" with a long-drawn "Oh!" And when I said He was a long way off, in the beautiful sky, she said quickly: "What a bore!" I asked: "Why?" She answered: "Me like to see God, mamma." In short, she caught up some notion of a good fellow who made everything that was good and beautiful, and has told me ever since: "Dod made the trees, the sun and the moon, and all the pitty things." So I flatter myself she is on the fair road to Deism. Christianity must dawn upon her mind by very slow degrees, poor little infant! But she is so loving and gentle she is no bad exemplification of "Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven," and I am very dotingly fond of her.' I think if this fond mother had given the love without attempting the instruction, merely teaching the child to admire and notice and love, she would have been more sensibly employed in fitting it for its future life than in trying to explain and expound Deism or Christianity at so early an age.
I knew, years ago, two conscientious young parents, both equally religious, who stayed away themselves from going to church, which they loved, in order, as they said, to break the temper of their little daughter, aged two and a half. As I said before, temper which is inborn and hereditary should never be fought, but always treated with love, gentleness, and tenderness, as an illness. Temper cannot be conquered except from within. To help the child to help itself, that is the only method. I do not really believe that punishment ever does any good to old or young, though self-mortification helps many natures. Prisons rank with mad-houses; they exist to protect the public, not to benefit the individuals who suffer punishment. The only way with children is gradually to get them to see what most helps themselves. I admit that to understand the way children's minds work is a humiliatingly difficult task, and one cannot be too careful not to shock their feelings by either laughing at them or letting them see any contempt for their most natural ignorance. There is a well-known story of a little girl who, having been naughty, was told to ask forgiveness of the Almighty in her evening prayers. The next morning, when questioned as to whether she had done so, she quietly answered: 'Oh yes, but Dod said: "Don't mention it, Miss B - "'!