« ZurückWeiter »
to live and labour. And so more of mystery in the aspect of the heavenly deeps dwells above the heads of the men who toil and struggle, than over the more noble forms of those who lead an incurious and easy life, waiting only for what will come, and never asking what it may be. And if the more busy and earnest had purer faith in the Father of all, a yet nobler and more dignified repose would pervade the spirit; and, working outwards, impart to the visible form a greater majesty of composure than that produced by the unquestioning fatalism of the Arab.
First, children are. They are a great fact. They are not to be ignored. They surround us. They are with us, or not too far from us, in our downsitting and our uprising, by night and by day. They are in this street, and the next street; in my house, in your house, in the house of All-the-world and-his-wife. The children are here,-items in the census, players at street-corners, wearers out of shoes, distarbers of sleep, careful comforts,' helpful destructives, tangible, audible, visible, every way undeniable facts.
Passing from the fact of childhood to the reasons of it, we find ourselves adding that children always were; and, passing from the reasons of the fact to its moral consequences, we add, further, that the children always ought to be, and that it would be a sad, bad world (for the one generation of its then possible continuance), without them. I suppose every one of us will add this: and yet there is a great falling-off from its old-world standard in the feeling about children. Happy little ones! unperplexed as a mathematic line,-unconscious of political economy as the shuttlecocks you jerk in air, or the guineapigs you feed in hutches, taking no thought for that beloved to-morrow of your elders (to whom it never comes), -eating, drinking, sleeping, and making merry, in defiance of Malthus and John Mill, - hard would it be to possess your minds with the thought that any one of you has come to Nature's table an unbidden guest, and that she sternly bids you begone;' that some of our solidest thinkers have taught that in an ideal community, the law would back the ordonnance of Nature' by penal statutes against such as carried a quiver too “full of' you! That you never should consider yourselves from the economic point of view seems à priori very probable, for it might stunt your growth, and make you uncomfortable. That you never do, I know, and every parent knows, for a positive fact. How long is it since one of you asked me for leave to buy and keep a buck and a doe'-meaning a pair of rabbits—and, in the same breath, to procure him a horse ? Taking such delight in the thought of surrounding himself with life, VOL. VII.
and never reflecting that life cannot be supported without means, that labour must supply the means, and that the human capacity for labour is finite! A type of you all was that little boy. If our countenance to you. ward has changed somewhat, not so yours to us-ward. Still you trust us, open-faced and clear-eyed, as when two of you followed the wicked uncle into the wood so quiet for the slaughter :' still you look up to us with boundless confidence in our wits, our arms, our purses; asking, that you may receive, knocking, that it may be opened to you, taught by the sure instinct implanted by One who is above Nature,—whose is the earth and its fulness,—who knows nothing of vacant tables,' and 'unbidden guests,' though He does of the ruffian gluttony' which forestalls honest hunger at the feast of life'-or drives it away.
Lord Bacon says that the tendency of Atheism is to degrade man by making the up-looking eye and the aspiring trust impossible. • Observe,' he says, 'a dog, and mark what a generosity and courage he will put on when he finds himself maintained by a man, who to him is instead of a God, or melior natura ;' which courage is manifestly such as that creature, without that confidence of a better nature than his own, could never attain. But this idea may be turned round. Observe (one might say) a man; and mark what a generosity and courage he will put on, when he finds himself the 'melior natura' to a child who looks up to him. O beautiful complication in the web of our little lives! The nobler for honouring the weaker vessel, and the stronger for the child that clutches at his skirts, a man finds it good that he should lift up' sometimes, as well as look up. I do not speak of a child as a motive to exertion, or of anything so utilitarian. I am thinking of the subtle virtus of generosity which flows from the child to the child's elders in their intercourse. It is among the immortally true and touching common places which no one turns from saying . autrefois dit,' that in the company of little humanities there is a sweetly cordial exhilaration, and a contagious atmosphere of simplicity, that must be reckoned among the most important sources of moral regeneration to grown people that, in truth, it would be, as we were saying, a 'sad, bad world' without children.
Something of mystery and wonder, something of loveliness and pathos, clings to the beginnings and re-beginnings of things, in all inanimate nature and in all life. Before parasitical uses or warping customs have assailed the new-created thing, while the memory of the marvel of its emergence from infinity is fresh, and its future is almost as vague as its antenatal past, how sacred and how beautiful it is! Maturity is a broad table-land, measurable, traversable, fertile, of significance soon spelt out, where this is for one use, and that for another, and the beginning and the end are clear; but the infancy of things is an upward slope from nothing, of which the precise beginning may not be definable, and the precise incline not soon meagured. The great, broad river is useful; the sky-bound sea is sacred ; but sacred, too, the little fount at the mystery of its source, haunted by immortal creatures, white-footed and clear of eye. Nor sacred
alone; but beautiful too, like the spring, or the early morning, or childhood. The sacredness and the beauty too are touched with a cunning hand in these verses (of which I do not know the author):
TO AN INFANT SMILING AS IT AWOKE.
Displays the cloudless heaven in reflection,
Into a waking smile of recollection,
Display a mental heaven of its own;
The sunlight of a sphere to us unknown ;
In some blest star where thou hast pre-existed ;
About the golden harps of seraphs twisted ;
Of the great Fountain-Spirit in the sky,
Whence thou hast fall’n ; a dew-drop from on high-
But hast thou no remembrance of the past,
Which o'er thy slumbering faculties hath cast
Athwart thine eyes celestial sights are given,
Display a transitory glimpse of heaven ;
Mysterious type, which none can understand !
Limbs lately touched by the Creator's hand :
To ask thy blessing than bestow mine own.' I can conceive moods of mind in which this kind of apostrophe would appear exaggerated; but I should hope such moods as that in which the poem was written occur sometimes to all of us. In the · holiness of childhood I do not believe, but that the teaching of intercourse with children is a religious teaching is a most true and Christian idea, which mountains of profane rhapsody (such as some of our Poetasters have piled up) cannot smother, any more than they can rob the lilies of the field of the glory wherewith the Lord of glory clothed them anew for all time, or take from woman the honour which has waited on her steps since Jesus loved Mary and her sister Martha * Nor is the sacredness which clings to the untried life of the very young a theme likely to be practically overdone. There is usually enough gravitation in our position with our children to keep us from dangerous flights of sentimentality. And, in truth, the beloved little ones supply a moral discipline somewhat severe at times, and almost always enough to ballast the poetry they bring with them.
I remember an anecdote about Boswell drawing out' Johnson by putting the fantastic and uncomfortable hypothesis of his finding himself alone in an uninhabited place with a little baby,— What would you do, Doctor?' 'Why, sir,' says Johnson, 'I would feed it,and should wash it with warm water to soothe it, and not with cold water to fret it. Now, familiar as is the image of the great man in undignified attitudes,-bearing home a poor woman on his back, or carrying cat’s-meat up Bolt-court, – it is hard to think of Johnson performing the functions of a nurse. But who doubts that he would have done it in the case supposed ? Or who doubts that anybody else would have done it? The imperativeness of the wants of children it is, which teaches the most ease-loving and unhandy of us lessons of self-renunciation and service we might otherwise have to learn in paths where no flowers or fruits of affection grew among the briars of painful toil. The ukase of a Czar is not half so despotic as the need of a little child. “Attend to me, or I perish'--that is what it says; and we do attend, at any cost to ourselves; without, however, calculating consequences much. It is almost appalling to think of the adult wear and tear that go to the rearing of one child_broken nights, fevered days, aching heads, redoubled cares, and toils prolonged.
* Even this is not safe from the profane finger of spasmodic cant. The last volume of Poems contains
• A Mary, with meek eyes of blue, (!)
The weary Christ to Bethany,
When no home on earth had lie.' The despicable bad taste of this has, I believe, prevented any one from noticing something else in the passage--the palpable 'reminiscence' of a line in Tennyson's Lady Clara Vere de Vere-
O, your sweet cyes, your low replies !'. I have, however, seen two parallels to the profanity of this allusion : in one case, it was said that Christ sang the hymn before going to the Mount of Olives with a mellow voice;' and in the other, that the Jews • bis tender body slew.' I have occasionally heard from the pulpit not dissimilar sentimentalisms in comments upon the more pathetic passages in the Gospels; and Watts is not blameless
There the dear flesh of Jesus lay,
And left a long perfume,' is in abominable taste.
And it is all gone through, I dare not say cheerfully and unwearily at every moment, but quite ungrudgingly, and with no thought of flagging. The toil is borne, the headache comes and goes, the rest is broken again and again, but the child grows, and is happy, and the lesson is learnt and quietly woven into the texture of the character. What is more, over and above our transcendental dithyrambics about antenatal visions, and
“That outer murmur of the infinite
Which unweaned babies smile at in their sleep,' men with incumbrances sometimes go off into homelier and more genial raptures; as thus :
• TODDLING MAY.*
A sinless eye of blue,
That, baby dcar, is you;
That is priceless every curl,
Ay, that's my baby girl.
That is worn with a tiny pride;
With a baby wonder eyed;
Whose feet have a tiny fall,
That Baby May, we call.
That a thought of sleep disdain,
Are by'd and by'd in vain ;
With strainings and pursed-up brow ;
Ay, that's my baby now.
Too deep for a word or tear ;
As the future is hope or fear;
We would and yet would not know,
As is perilled by hearts below.
Or our days with such gladness girds !
Like the joy of her baby words !
Should be, could the future say,
For the eyes of Baby May.' * The verses are by Mr. W. C. Bennett, who is the author of a little of the prettiest child-poetry in the language,