Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

ing and killing of beasts will, by degrees, harden their minds even towards men; and they who delight in the suffering and destruction of inferior creatures, will not be apt to be very compassionate or benign to those of their own kind. Our practice takes notice of this, in the exclusion of butchers from juries of life and death. Children should from the beginning be bred up in an abhorrence of killing or tormenting any living creature, and be taught not to spoil or destroy any thing unless it be for the preservation or advantage of some other that is nobler And truly, if the preservation of all mankind, as much as in him lies, where every one's persuasion, as indeed it is every one's duty, and the true principle to regulate our religion, politics, and morality by, the world would be much quieter, and better-natured than it is. But to return to our present business; I can not but commend both the kindness and prudence of a mother I knew, who was wont always to indulge her daughters, when any of them desired dogs, squirrels, birds, or any such things, as young girls use to be delighted with; but then, when they had them, they must be sure to keep them well, and look diligently after them, that they wanted nothing, or were not ill used; for, if they were negligent in their care of them, it was counted a great fault, which often forfeited their possession; or, at least, they failed not to be rebuked for it, whereby they were early taught diligence and good-nature. And, indeed, I think people should be accustomed, from their cradles, to be tender to all sensi ble creatures, and to spoil or waste nothing at all.

This delight they take in doing of mischief (whereby I mean spoiling of any thing to no purpose, but more especially the pleasure they take to put any thing in pain that is capable of it,) I can not persuade myself to be any other than a foreign and introduced disposition, an habit borrowed from custom and conver. sation. People teach children to strike, and laugh when they hurt, or see harm come to others; and they have the examples of most about them to confirm them in it. All the entertainment of talk and history is of nothing almost but fighting and killing; and the honor and ronown that is bestowed on conquerors (who for the most part are but the great butchers of mankind) farther mislead growing youths, who by this means come to think slaughter the laudable business of mankind, and the most heroic of virtues. By these steps unnatural cruelty is planted in us ; and what humanity abhors, custom reconciles and recommends to us by laying it in the way to honor. Thus, by fashion and opinion, that comes to be a pleasure, which in itself neither is, nor can be any. This ought carefully to be watched, and early remedied, so as to settle and cherish the contrary and more natural temper of benignity and compassion in the room of it; but still by the same gentle methods, which are to be applied to the other two faults before mentioned. It may not perhaps be unreasonable here to add this farther caution, viz., that the mischiefs or harms that come by play, inadvertency, or ignorance, and were not known to be harms, or designed for mischief's sake, though they may perhaps be sometimes of considerable damage, yet are not at all, or but very gently, to be taken notice of. For this, I think, I can not too often inculcate, that whatever miscarriage a child is guilty of, and whatever be the consequence of it, the thing to be regarded in taking notice of it, is only what root it springs from, and what habit it is like to establish; and to that the correction ought to be directed, and the child not to suffer any punishment for any harm which may have come by his play or inadvertency. The faults to be amended lie in the mind; and if they are such as either age will cure, or no ill habits will follow from, the present action, whatever displeasing circumstances it may have, is to be passed by without any animadversion.

111. Another way to instill sentiments of humanity, and to keep them lively in young folks, will be to accustom them to civility, in their language and deportment towards their inferiors, and the meaner sort of people, particularly servants. It is not unusual to observe the children, in gentlemen's families, treat the servants of the house with domineering words, names of contempt, and an imperious carriage, as if they were of another race, and species beneath them. Whether ill example, the advantage of fortune, or their natural vanity, inspire this haughtiness, it should be prevented, or weeded out; and a gentle, courteous, affable carriage towards the lower ranks of men, placed in the room of it. No part of their superiority will be hereby lost, but the distinction increased, and their authority strengthened, when love in inferiors is joined to outward respect, and an esteem of the person has a share in their submission; and domesties will pay a more ready and cheerful service, when they find themselves not spurned, because fortune has laid them below the level of others, at their master's feet. Children should not be suffered to lose the consideration of human nature in the shufflings of outward conditions; the more they have, the better humored they should be taught to be, and the more compassionate and gentle to those of their brethren, who are placed lower, and have scantier portions. If they are suffered from their cradles to treat men ill and rudely, because by their father's title, they think they have a little power over them: at best it is ill-bred; and, if care be not taken, will, by degrees, nurse up their natural pride into an habitual contempt of those beneath them; and where will that probably end, but in oppression and cruelty ?

CURIOSITY.

112. Curiosity in children, (which I had occasion just to mention, $102,) is but an appetite after knowledge, and therefore ought to be encouraged in them, not only as a good sign, but as the great instrument nature has provided, to remove that ignorance they were born with, and which without this busy inquisitiveness will make them dull and useless creatures. The ways to encourage it, and keep it active and busy, are, I suppose, these following:

1. Not to check or discountenance any inquiries he shall make, nor suffer them to be laughed at; but to answer all his questions, and explain the matters he desires to know, so as to make them as much intelligible to him, as suits the capacity of his age and knowledge. But confound not his understanding with explications or notions that are above it, or with the variety or number of things that are not to his present purpose. Mark what it is his mind aims at in the question, and not what words he expresses it in: and, when you have informed and satisfied him in that, you shall see how his thoughts will enlarge themselves, and how by fit answers he may be led on farther than perhaps you could imagine. For knowledge is grateful to the understanding, as light to the eyes: children are pleased and delighted with it exceedingly, especially if they see that their inquiries are regarded, and that their desire of knowing is encouraged and commended. And I doubt not but one great reason, why many children abandon themselves wholly to silly sports, and trifle away all their time insipidly, is, because they have found their curiosity baulked, and their inquiries neglected. But had they been treated with more kindness and respect, and their questions answered, as they should, to their satisfaction, I doubt not but they would have taken more pleasure in learning, and improving their knowledge, wherein there would be still newness and variety, which is what they are delighted with, than in returning over and over to the same play and playthings.

113. 2. To this serious answering their questions, and informing their understandings in what they desire, as if it were a matter that needed it, should be added some peculiar ways of commendation. Let others, whom they esteem, be told before their faces of the knowledge they have in such and such things; and since we are all, even from our cradles, vain and proud creatures, let their vanity be flattered with things that will do them good; and let their pride set them on work on something which may turn to their advantage. Upon this ground you shall find, that there can not be a greater spur to the attaining what you would have the elder learn and know himself, than to set him upon teaching it his younger brothers and sisters.

114. 3. As children's inquiries are not to be slighted, so also great care is to be taken, that they never receive deceitful and illuding answers. They easily perceive when they are slighted or deceived, and quickly learn the trick of neglect, dissimulation, and falsehood, which they observe others to make use of. We are not to intrench upon truth in any conversation, but least of all with children; since, if we play false with them, we not only deceive their expectation, and hinder their knowledge, but corrupt their innocence, and teach them the worst of vices. They are travelers newly arrived in a strange country, of which they know nothing: we should, therefore, make conscience not to mislead them. And though their questions seem sometimes not very material, yet they should be seriously answered; for however they may appear to us, (to whom they are long since known,) inquiries not worth making, they are of moment to those who are wholly ignorant. Children are strangers to all we are acquainted with; and all the things they meet with, are at first unknown to them, as they once were to us: and happy are they who meet with civil people, that will comply with their ignorance, and help them to get out of it.

If you or I should be set down in Japan, with all our prudence and knowl. edge about us, a conceit whereof makes us perhaps so apt to slight the thoughts and inquiries of children: should we, I say, be set down in Japan, we should, no doubt, (if we would inform ourselves of what is there to be known,) ask a thousand questions, which, to a supercilious or inconsiderate Japanese, would seem very idle and impertinent; though to us they would be very material, and of importance to be resolved; and we should be glad to find a man so complaisant and courteous, as to satisfy our demands, and instruct our ignorance.

When any new thing comes in their way, children usually ask the common question of a stranger, What is it? whereby they ordinarily mean nothing but the name; and, therefore, to tell them how it is called, is usually the proper answer to that demand. The next question usually is, What is it for? And to this it should be answered truly and directly: the use of the thing should be told, and the way explained, bow it serves to such a purpose, as far as their capacities can comprehend it; and so of any other circumstances they shall ask about it; not turning them going, till you have given them all the satisfaction they are capable of, and so leading them by your answers into farther ques. tions. And perhaps to a grown man such conversation will not be altogether so idle and insignificant, as we are apt to imagine. The native and untaught suggestions of inquisitive children do often offer things that may set a considering man's thoughts on work. And I think there is frequently more to be learned from the unexpected questions of a child, than the discourses of men, who talk in a road, according to the notions they have borrowed, and the prejudices of their education.

115. 4. Perhaps it may not sometimes be amiss to excite their curiosity, by bringing strange and new things in their way, on purpose to engage their inquiry, and give him occasion to inform themselves about them; and if by chance their curiosity leads them to ask what they should not know, it is a great deal better to tell them plainly, that it is a thing that belongs not to them to know, than to pop them off with a falsehood, or a frivolous answer.

116. Pertness, that appears sometimes so early, proceeds from a principle that seldom accompanies a strong constitution of body, or ripens into a strong judgment of mind. If it were desirable to have a child a more brisk talker, I believe there might be ways found to make him so; but, I suppose, a wise father had rather that his son should be able and useful, when a man, than pretty company, and a diversion to others, whilst a child; though, if that too were to be considered, I think I may say, there is not so much pleasure to have a child prattle agreeably, as to reason well. Encourage, therefore, his inquisitiveness all you can, by satisfying his demands, and informing his judgment, as far as it is capable. When his reasons are any way tolerable, let him find the credit and commendation of them; and when they are quite out of the way, let him, without being laughed at for his mistake, be gently put into the right; and if he show a forwardness to be reasoning about things that come in his way, take care, as much as you can, that nobody check this inclination in him, or mislead it by captious or fallacious ways of talking with him: for, when all is done, this, as the highest and most important faculty of our minds, deserves the greatest care and attention in cultivating it; the right improvement and exercise of our reason being the highest perfection that a man can attain to in this life.

SAUNTERING. 117. Contrary to this busy inquisitive temper, there is sometimes observable in children a listless carelessness, a want of regard to any thing, and a sort of trifling, even at their business. This sauntering humor I look on as one of the worst qualities can appear in a child, as well as one of the hardest to be cured, where it is natural. But it being liable to be mistaken in some cases, care must be taken to make a right judgment concerning that trifling at their books or business, which may sometimes be complained of in a child. Upon the first suspicion a father has, that his son is of a sauntering temper, he must carefully observe him, whether he be listless and indifferent in all his actions, or whether in some things alone he be slow and sluggish, but in others vigorous and eager: for though he find that he does loiter at his book, and let a good deal of the time he spends in his chamber or study, run idly away, he must not presently conclude, that this is from a sauntering humor in his temper; it may be childishness, and a preferring something to his study, which his thoughts run on; and he dislikes his book, as is natural, because it is forced upon him as a task. To know this perfectly, you must watch him at play, when he is out of his place and time of study, following his own inclinations; and see there, whether he be stirring and active; whether he designs any thing, and with labor and eagerness pursues it, till he

has accomplished what he aimed at; or whether he lazily and listlessly dreams away bis time. If this sloth be only when he is about his book, I think it may be easily cured; if it be in his temper, it will require a little more pains and attention to remedy it. 118. If you

u are satisfied, by his earnestness at play, or any thing else he sets his mind on, in the intervals between his hours of business, that he is not of himself inclined to laziness, but that only want of relish of his book makes him negligent and sluggish in his application to it; the first step is to try, by talking to him kindly of the folly and inconvenience of it, whereby he loses a good part of his time, which he might have for his diversion: but be sure to talk calmly and kindly, and not much at first, but only these plain reasons in short. If this prevails, you have gained the point in the most desirable way, which is that of reason and kindness. If this softer application prevails not, try to shame him out of it, by laughing at him for it, asking every day, when he comes to the table, if there be no strangers there, “how long he was that day about his business?" And if he has not done it, in the time he might be well supposed to have dispatched it, expose and turn him into ridicule for it; but mix no chiding, only put on a pretty cold brow towards him, and keep it till he reform; and let bis mother, tutor, and all about him do so too. If this work not the effect you desire, then tell him, " he shall be no longer troubled with a tutor to take care of his education: you will not be at the charge to have him spend his time idly with him; but since he prefers this or that, (whatever play he delights in,] to his book, that only he shall do;" and so in earnest set him to work on his beloved play, and keep him steadily, and in earnest to it, morning and afternoon, till he be fully surfeited, and would, at any rate, change it for some hours at his book again: but when you thus set him his task of play, you must be sure to look after him yourself, or set somebody else to do it, that may constantly see him employed in it, and that he be not permitted to be idle at that too. I say, yourself look after him; for it is worth the father's while, whatever business he has, to bestow two or three days upon his son, to cure so great a mischief as his sauntering at his business.

119. This is what I propose, if it be idleness, not from his general temper, but a peculiar or acquired aversion to learning, which you must be careful to examine and distinguish. But though you have your eyes upon him, to watch what he does with the time wbich he has at his own disposal, yet you must not let him perceive that you, or any body else do so; for that may hinder him from following his own inclinations, which he being full of, and not daring, for fear of you, to prosecute what his head and heart are set upon, he may neglect all other things, which then he relishes not, and so may seem to be idle and listless, when, in truth, it is nothing but being intent on that, which the fear of your eye or knowledge keeps him from executing. To be clear in this point, the observation must be made when you are out of the way, and he not so much as under the restraint of a suspicion that any body has an eye upon him. In those seasons of perfect freedom, let somebody you can trust mark how he spends his time, whether he inactively loiters it away, when, without any check, he is left to his own inclination. Thus, by his employing of such times of liberty, you will easily discern whether it be listlessness in his temper, or aversion to his book, that makes him saunter away his time of study.

120. If some defect in his constitution has cast a damp on his mind, and he he naturally listless and dreaming, this unpromising disposition is none of the

« AnteriorContinua »