It seems satisfactory that a great number of the newspaper critics gave me credit for common-sense. Some few passages in 'sons and Daughters' raised opposition, but, I am bound to confess, much less than I expected. My great disappointment was that I got so little actual criticism - I may even say, so little correction. In this, I am told, I was ambitious, as most critics compose their articles by a few quotations, and have neither time nor inclination to really criticise. There was one excellent exception in an interesting and friendly article in the, Spectator.' This critic seems to doubt, more even than I did, the courage of parents and nurses as regards giving independence to young children. But in proof of the desirability of my recommendations he quotes Stevenson's admirable saying with regard to a boy: 'It is better for him to break his neck than for you to break his spirit.' This article shows the revers de la médaille so well, as regards the atmosphere of a home, that I copy it. After approving my suggestions about giving allowances to both girls and boys, it goes on to say: 'The question of the frank criticism by children of their home is more doubtful. It is, of course, better that their dissatisfaction should, like the measles, "come out," but what about their home manners? Criticism is very apt to degenerate into grumbling, and the spectacle of children or young people grumbling about domestic arrangements is not edifying. Grumbling is always rude; and if manners make the man, it is an undoubted fact that perfect manners are incompatible with absolute brutal outspokenness. For instance, the wife and mother who is trying to attain the really lofty standard aimed at in this book cannot, of necessity, be absolutely outspoken. If her work is to be successful, she must not hint that any part of it is distasteful; that is, she must conceal some of her feelings. Surely children should not be brought up to feel that their father and mother are the only people they may be rude to. And if the money argument is to be applied to the wife, it must touch the children too; they must not be allowed to take all the luxuries of the house they do not pay for, and then grumble because those luxuries are not arranged as they like best. And now that we apply this reasoning a second time, we see that in reality it is rather an ugly argument. It is a fact, but, like other facts, such as death and digestion, it need not be obtruded at every moment. The woman's work may be given from love of her home; and the children may forbear, also through love, to tell their mother that the dinner-hour is not quite the fashionable one, and "you might have remembered how I hate that pudding." The mother will look out for herself and see to the tastes of her family, and will in talks with one and the other ask for advice and hints on new ways of arranging the familiar details of life. And so good manners, which are really the Christian virtues of patience, charity, and self-control, will reign in that house, and it will be a far pleasanter place than if everyone in turn were loudly to volunteer their opinion of how it ought to be conducted.'
This has truth in it. All individuals must decide for themselves how to draw the line between good manners and what may end in whited sepulchres. This is doubly difficult with children whose natural inclination is to speak as they feel, for not to do so appears to them rather as a deception than as a sparing of other people's feelings. Everyone's experience will tell them how early children say to others what they dare not say in their own home. The great difficulty is to keep the love of children. Goethe says: 'There is a politeness of the heart; this is closely allied to love. Those who possess this purest fountain of natural politeness find it easy to express the same in forms of outward propriety.'
Nothing was more amusing to me than this interesting variety in the letters about 'sons and Daughters.' I will quote passages from several of them: 'I agree with your "Daughters" more than I thought I should. You do not lay such stress as I thought you would on the necessity of getting married and the "complete" point of view.' All the same I maintain that an unmarried woman is not a complete human being.
'I think the chapter on "Sons" the better of the two. But I think independence in boys is far easier to manage than in girls. School-life brings boys to their proper level. Home-life with absolute freedom rather leads to a girl becoming too confident that her own opinion must be the right one. She rubs up against so few who can or will take her down. The independent girl generally rules those of her own age. Of course you cannot lay down a hard-and-fast rule for any child. Each one has its different character, to be formed and improved by those who live with it. This ought to be done by the mother, but it is more often left to an ignorant governess, who does not try to understand the child, who has her own narrow-minded ideas of right and wrong, and never makes allowance for high spirit and temper.'
'You must remember that the people I was brought up amongst take their duties as parents seriously, if narrowly - and many of these, as far as they still exist, will be a little startled at some of your theories, and the unmoral (mind, I don't say immoral) tone. Parents and children are a subject of perennial interest. We have all been the one, and many of us the other - and the rest of us stand in loco parentis to some at least of the younger generation. But as long as the world lasts there will be difficulties in that relation. Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait is a saw which has many meanings. I totally disagree with your idea that the young must never be sacrificed to the old, or the healthy to the sick. Why, your own remarks on nursing testify to the good that may come of such a sacrifice.'
This last sentence proves to me that my remarks were not clear, and the impression conveyed is certainly not what I intended. What I really think is that the old have no right to command the young to sacrifice their lives to them. But, on the other hand, the voluntary sacrifice by the young of their own lives, though it should be carefully watched by those about them, is certainly not without immense benefit to themselves, self-sacrifice being acknowledged by all moralists to be the greatest strengthener of human character. There is, however, the great risk and danger of self-suppression.