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child-life*; not because it was in any respect an excep-
tional or remarkable existence, but for a reason exactly the
i everse, because it was like that of many children ; at least
I have met with many children who throve or suffered from
the same or similar unseen causes even under external con-
ditions and management every way dissimilar. Facts, there-
fore, which can be relied on, may be generally useful as
Iiints towards a theory of conduct. What I shall say here
fehall be simply the truth so far as it goes ; not something
between the false and the true, garnished for effect, not
something half remembered, half imagined, but plain, ab-
solute, matter of fact.

No ; certainly I was not an extraordinary child. I have
had something to do with children, and have met with
several more remarkable for quickness of talent and pre-
cocity of feeling. If anything in particular, I believe I was
particularly naughty, at least so it was said twenty tunes
a day. But looking back now, I do not think I was par-
ticular even in this respect ; I perpetrated not more than
the usual amount of mischief so called which every
lively, active child perpetrates between five and ten years
old. I had the usual desire to know, and the usual


to learn ; the usual love of fairy-tales, and hatred of French
exercises. But not of what I learned, but of what I did not
learn ; not of what they taught me, but of what they could
not teach me ; not of what was open, apparent, manageable,
but of the under-current, the hidden, the unmanaged or
unmanageable, I have to speak, and you, my friend, to he.ir
and turn to account, if you will, and how you will. As \ve
grow old the experiences of infancy come back upon us
with a strange vividness. There is a period when the oxer-
flowing, tumultuous life of our youth rises up between us
and those first years ; but as the torrent subsides in its bed,
we can look across the impassable gulf to that haunted fairy-
land which we shall never more approach, and never more
forget !

In memory I can go back to a very early age. I per-
fectly remember being sung to sleep, and can remember
even the tune which was sang to me, blessings on the
voice that sang it ! I was an affectionate, but not, as I now
think, a lovable nor an attractive child. I did not, like the
little Mozart, ask of every one around me, " Do you love
me ? " The instinctive question was, rather, " Can I love
you ? " Yet certainly I was not more than six years old
when I suffered from the fear of not being loved where I
had attached myself, and from the idea that another was
preferred before me, such anguish as had nearly killed me.
Whether those around me regarded it as a fit of ill-temper,
or a fit of illness, I do not know. I coidd not then have
given a name to the pang that fevered me. I knew not the
cause, but never forgot the suffering. It left a deeper
impression than childish passions usually do ; and the recol-
lection was so far salutary, that in after life I guarded
myself against the approaches of that hateful, deformed,
agonizing thing which men call jealousy, as I would from
an attack of cramp or cholera. If such self-knowledge has


not saved me from the pain, at least it has saved me from
the demoralizing effects of the passion, by a wholesome
terror, and even a sort of disgust.

With a good temper, there was the capacity of strong,
deep, silent resentment, and a vindictive spirit of rather a
peculiar kind. I recollect that when one of those set over
me inflicted what then appeared a most horrible injury
and injustice, the thoughts of vengeance haunted my fancy
for months ; but it was an inverted sort of vengeance.
I imagined the house of my enemy on fire, and rushed
through the flames to rescue her. She was drowning, and
I leaped into the deep water to draw her forth. She was
pining in prison, and I forced bars and bolts to deliver her.
If this were magnanimity, it was not the less vengeance ;
for, observe, I always fancied evil, and shame, and humilia-
tion to my adversary ; to myself the role of superiority and
gratified pride. For several years this sort of burning re-
sentment against wrong done to myself and others, though it
took no mean or cruel form, was a source of intense, untold
suffering. No one was aware of it. I was left to settle it ;
and my mind righted itself I hardly know how ; not cer-
tainly by religious influences, they passed over my mind,
and did not at the time sink into it, and as for earthly
counsel or comfort, I never had either when most needed.
And as it fared with me then, so it has been in after life ; so
it has been, must be, with all those who, in fighting out alone
the pitched battle between principle and passion, will accept
no intervention between the infinite within them and the
infinite above them ; so it has been, must be, with all strong
natures. Will it be said, that victory in the struggle brings
increase of strength ? It may be so with some who survive
fhe contest ; but then, how many sink ! how many are crip-
pled morally for life ! how many, strengthened in some par-
ticular faculties, suffer in losing the harmony of the char-
acter as a whole ! This is one of the points in which the


matured mind may help the childish nature at strife with
It is impossible, to say how Car this sort of vindictive-
ni'dif have |)ciictrafc(l and hardened into the char-
acter, if I ha<! hi-en of a timi<l or retiring nature. It was
expelled ;it last by no outer influences, but by a growing
sense of power and self-reliance.

In regard to truth always such a difficulty in education
I certainly had, as a c[iild, and like, most children, con-
fused ideas about it. I had a more distinct and absolute
idea of honor than of truth, a mistake into which our
conventional morality leads those who educate and those
who arc educated. I knew very well, in a general way,
that to tell a lie was wicked; to lie for my own profit or
pleasure, or to the hurt of others, was, according to my
infant code of morals, worse than wicked, it was dishonor-
able. But I had no compunction about telling fictions;
inventing aoenes and circumstances which I related ns real,
and with a keen sense of triumphant enjoyment in seeing
the listener taken in by a most artful and ingenious concate-
nation of impossibilities. In this respect " Ferdinand Men-
dez Pinto, that liar of the first magnitude," was nothing in
comparison to me. I must have been twelve years old
before my conscience was first awakened up to a sense of
the necessity of truth as a principle, as well as its holiness
as a virtue. Afterwards, having to set right the minds of
others cleared my own mind on this and some other impor-
tant points.

I do not think I was naturally obstinate, but remember
gomg without food all day, and being sent hungry and
exhausted to bed, because I would not do some trifling
thing required of me. I think it was to recite some lines
1 knew by heart. I was punished as wilfully obstinate ;
but what no one knew then, and what I know now as the


feet, was, tliat after refusing to do what was require 1, and
bearing anger and threats in consequence, I lost the power
to do it. I became stone : the will was petrified, and I
absolutely could not comply. They might have hacked me
in pieces before my lips could have unclosed to utterance.
The obstinacy was not in the mind, but on the nerves ; and
I am persuaded that what we call obstinacy in children,
and grown-up people too, is often something of this kind,
arid that it may be increased by mismanagement, by per-
sistence, or what is called firmness in the controlling power,
into disease, or something near to it

There was* in my childish mind another cause of Buffer-
sides those I have mentioned, less acute, but more
permanent, and always unacknowledged. It was fear,
fear of darkness and supernatural influences. As long as
I can remember anything, I remember these horrors of my
infancy. How they had been awakened I do not know ;
they were never revealed. I had heard other children
ridiculed for such fears, and held my peace. At first these
haunting, thrilling, stifling terrors were vague ; afterwards
the form varied ; but one of the most permanent was the
ghost in Hamlet. There was a volume of Shakespeare
lying about, in which was an engraving I hz*ve not seen
since, but it remains distinct in my mind as a picture. On
one side stood Hamlet with his hair on end, literally " like
quills upon the fretful porcupine," and one hand with all
the fingers outspread. On the other strided the ghost,
encased in armor with nodding plumes ; one finger point-
ing forwards, and all surrounded with a supernatural light.

that spectre! for three years it followed me up and
down the dark staircase, or stood by my bed: only the
blessed light had power to exorcise it. How it was that

1 knew, while I trembled and quaked, that it was unreal,
never cried cut, never expostulated, never confessed, I do


not know. The 'figure of Apollyon looming over Christum,
which I had found in an old edition of the <% Pilgrim's
Progress," was also a great torment. But worse, perhaps,
were certain phantasms without shape, tilings like the
vision in Job, " A spirit passed before my face ; it stood
still, hit I could not discern the form thereof" : and if
not intelligible voices, there were strange, unaccountable
sounds filling the air around with a sort of mysterious life.
In daylight I was not only fearless, but audacious, inclined
to defy all power and brave all danger, that is, all danger
I could see. I remember volunteering to lead the way
through a herd of cattle (among which was a dangerous
bull, the terror of the neighborhood) armed only with a
little stick; but first I said the Lord's Prayer fervently.
In the ghastly night I never prayed ; terror stifled prayer.
These visionary sufferings, in some form or other, pursued
me till I was nearly twelve years old. If I had not pos-
sessed a strong constitution and a strong understanding,
which rejected and contemned my own fears, even while
they shook me, I had been destroyed. How much weaker
children suffer in this way I have since known, and have
known how to bring them help and strength, through sym-
pathy and knowledge, the sympathy that soothes, anJ
does not encourage, the knowledge that dispels, and does
not suggest, the evil.

People, in general, even those who have been much in-
terested in education, are not aware of the sacred duty of
truth, exact truth in their intercourse with children. Limit
what you tell them according to the measure of their fac-
ulties ; but let what you say be the truth. Accuracy, not
merely as to fact, but well-considered accuracy in the use
of words, is essential with children. I have read some
wise book on the treatment of the insane, in which absolute
veracity and accuracy in speaking is prescribed as a cura-
tive principle ; and deception for any purpose is deprecated


as almost fatal to the health of the patient. New. it is a
good sanitary principle, that what is curative is preventive ;
and that an unhealthy state of mind, leading to madness,
may, in some organizations, be induced by that sort of
uncertainty and perplexity which grows up where the mind
has not been accustomed to truth in its external relations.
It is like breathing for a continuance an impure or con-
fined air.

Of the mischief that may be done to a childish mind by
a falsehood uttered in thoughtless gayety, I remember an
absurd and yet a painful instance. A visitor was turning
over, for a little girl, some prints, one of which represented
an Indian widow springing into the fire kindled for the
funeral pile of her husband. It was thus explained to
the child, who asked, innocently, whether, if her father
died her mother would be burned ? The person to whom
the question was addressed, a lively, amiable woman, was
probably much amused by the question, and answered
giddily, " O, of course, certainly ! " and was believed
implicitly. But thenceforth, for many weary months, the
mind of that child was haunted and tortured by the image
of her mother springing into the devouring flames, and
consumed by fire, with all the accessories of the picture,
particularly the drums beating to drown her cries. In a
weaker organization, the results might have been perma-
nent and serious. But to proceed.

These terrors I have described had an existence ex-
ternal to myself: I had no power over them to shape
;hem by my will, and their ' power over me vanished
gradually before a more dangerous infatuation, the pro-
pensity to reverie. The shaping spirit of imagination be-
gan when I was about eight or nine years old to haunl
my inner life. I can truly say that, from ten years old to
fourteen or fifteen, I lived a double existence ; one out-
ward, linking me with the external sensible world, the


other inward, creating a world to and for itself, conscious
to itself only. I carried on for whole years a series of
actions, scenes, and adventures ; one springing out of an-
other, and colored and modified by increasing knowledge.
This habit grew so upon me, that there were moments
as when I came to some crisis in my imaginary adven-
tures when I was not more awake to outward tilings
Mian in sleep, scarcely took cognizance of the beings
around me. When punished for idleness by being placed
in solitary confinement (the worst of all punishments for
children), the intended penance was nothing less than a
delight and an emancipation, giving me up to my dreams.
I had a very strict and very accomplished governess, one
of the cleverest women I have ever met with in my life ;
but nothing of this was known or even suspected by her,
and I exulted in posse sing something which her power
could not reach. My reveries were my real life : it was
an unhealthy state of things.

Those who are engaged in the training of children will
perhaps pause here. It may be said, in the first place,
How are we to reach those recesses of the inner life
which the God who made us keeps from every eye but his
own ? As when we walk over the field in spring we are
aware of a thousand influences and processes at work of
which we have no exact knowledge or clear perception,
yet must watch and use according, so it is with educa-
I ion. And, secondly, it may be asked, if such secret pro-
cesses be working unconscious mischief, where the remedy ?
The remedy is in employment. Then the mother or the
teacher echoes, with astonishment, " Employment ! the child
is employed from morning till night ; she is learning a
dozen sciences and languages ; she has masters and lesson?
for every hour of every day ; with her pencil, her piano,
her books, her companions, her birds, her flowers, what
can she want more ? " An energetic child even at a very


early age, and yet further as the physical organization is
developed, wants something more and something better;
employment which shall bring with it the bond of a higher
duty than that which centres in self and self-improvement ;
employment which shall not merely cultivate the under-
standing, but strengthen and elevate the conscience ; em-
ployment for the higher and more generous faculties ;
employment addressed to the sympathies ; employment
which has the aim of utility, not pretended, but real, ob-
vious, direct utility. A girl who as a mere child is not
always being taught or being amused, whose mind is early
restrained by the bond of definite duty, and thrown out of
the limit o^ self, will not in after years be subject to fancies
that disturb or to reveries that absorb, and the present and
the actual will have that power they ought to have as com-
bined in due degree with desire and anticipation.

The Roman Catholic priesthood understand this well
employment, which enlists with the spiritual the sympa-
thetic part of our being, is a means through which they
guide both young and adult minds. Physicians who have
to manage various states of mental and moral disease un-
derstand this well ; they speak of the necessity of employ-
ment (not mere amusement) as a curative means, but of
employment with the direct aim of usefulness, apprehended
and appreciated by the patient, else it is nothing. It is
the same with children. Such employment, chosen with
reference to utility, and in harmony with the faculties,
would prove in many cases either preventive or curatire.
In my own case, as I now think, it would have been both.

There was a time when it was thought essential that
women should know something of cookery, something of
medicine, something of surgery. If all these things are
far better understood now than heretofore, is that a reason
why a well-educated woman should be left wholly ignorant
of them ? A knowledge of what people call " common


tilings," of the elements of physiology, of the conditions
of health, of the qualities, nutritive or remedial, of sub-
stances commonly used as food or medicine, and the most
economical and the most beneficial way of applying both,
these should form a part of the system of every girls'
school, whether for the higher or the lower classes. At
present you shall see a girl studying chemistry, and attend-
ing Faraday's lectures, who would be puzzled to compound
a rice-pudding or a cup of barley-water: and a girl who
could work quickly a complicated sum in the Rule of Three,
afterwards wasting a fourth of her husband's wages through
want of management.

In my own case, how much of the practical and sympa-
thetic in my nature was exhausted in airy visions !

As to the stuff out of which my waking dreams were
composed, I cannot tell you much. I have a remembrance
that I was always a princess heroine in the disguise of a
knight, a sort of Clorinda or Britomart, going about to re-
dress the wrongs of the poor, fight giants and kill dragons ;
or founding a society in some far-off solitude or desolate
island, which would have rivalled that of Gonsalez, where
there were to be no tears, no tasks, and no laws, except
those which I made myself, no caged birds nor tormented

Enough of the pains, and mistakes, and vagaries of
childhood ; let me tell of some of its pleasures equally un-
guessed and unexpressed. A great, an exquisite source of
enjoyment arose out of an early, instinctive, boundless de
light in external beauty. How this went hand in hand with
my terrors and reveries, how it could coexist with them, I
cannot tell now it was so ; and if this sympathy with the
external, living, beautiful world had been properly, scien-
tifically cultivated, and directed to useful definite purposes,
it \\ ould have been the best remedy for much that was mor-


bid ; this was not the case, and we were, unhappily for me,
loo early removed from the country to a town residence. I
can remember, however, that in very early years the appear-
ances of nature did truly " haunt me like a passion " ; the
stars were to me as the gates of heaven ; the rolling of the
wave to the shore ; the graceful weeds and grasses bending
before the breeze as they grew by the wayside ; the minute
and delicate forms of insects ; the trembling shadows of
boughs and leaves dancing on the ground hi the highest
noon ; these were to me perfect pleasures, of which the
imagery now in my mind is distinct Wordsworth's poem
of " The Daffodils," the one beginning

** " I wandered lonely as a cloud,"

may appear to some unintelligible or overcharged, but to me
it was a vivid truth, a simple fact ; and if Wordsworth had
been then in my hands, I think I must have loved him. It
was this intense sense of beauty which gave the first zest to
poetry : I loved it, not because it told me what I did not
know, but because it helped me to words in which to clothe
my own knowledge and perceptions, and reflected back the
pictures unconsciously hoarded up in my mind. This was
what made Thomson's " Seasons " a favorite book when I
first began to read for my own amusement, and before I
could understand one half of it ; St. Pierre's " Indian Cotr
tage " (" La Chaumiere Indienne ") was also charming,
either because it reflected my dreams, or gave me new stuff
for them in pictures of an external world quite different
from that I inhabited, palm-trees, elephants, tigers, dark-
turbaned men with flowing draperies ; and the " Arabian
Nights " completed my Oriental intoxication, which lasted
for a long time.

I have said little of the impressions left by books, and of
my first religious notions. A friend of mine had once the
wise idea of collecting together a variety of evidence as to


the impressions left by certain books on childish or imma-
ture minds. If carried out, it would have been one of the
most valuable additions to educational experience ever made.
For myself, I did not much care about the books put into
my hands, nor imbibe much information from them. I had
a great taste, I am sorry to say, for forbidden books ; yet it
was not the forbidden books that did the mischief, except in
their being read furtively. I remember impressions of vice
and cruelty from some parts of the Old Testament and
Goldsmith's " History of England," which I shudder to re-
call. Shakespeare was on the forbidden shelf. I had read
him all through between seven and ten years old. He
never did me any moral mischief. He never soiled my
mind with any disordered image. What was exceptionable
and coarse in language I passed by without attaching any
meaning whatever to it. How it might have been if I had
read Shakespeare first when I was fifteen or sixteen, I do
not know; perhaps the occasional coarseness and obscuri-
ties might have shocked the delicacy or puzzled the intelli-
gence of that sensitive and inquiring age. But at nine or
ten I had no comprehension of what was unseemly ; what
might be obscure in words to wordy commentators, was to
me lighted up by the idea I found or interpreted for myself,
right or wrong.

No ; I repeat, Shakespeare bless him ! never did me
any moral mischief. Though the Witches in Macbeth
troubled me, though the Ghost in Hamlet terrified me
(the picture, that is, for the spirit hi Shakespeare was sol-
emn and pathetic, not hideous), though poor little Arthur
cost me an ocean of tears, yet much that was obscure,
and all that was painful and revolting, was merged on the
whole in the vivid presence of a new, beautiful, vigorous
living world. The plays which I now think the most won-
derful produced comparatively little effect on my fancy : Ro-
me 3 and Juliet, Othello, Macbeth, struck me then less than


the historical plays, and far less than the Midsummer
Night's Dream and Cymbeline. It may be thought, per-
haps, that FUstaff is not a character to strike a child, or to
be understood by a child : no ; surely not. To me Fal-
staff was not witty and wicked, only irresistibly fat and
funny ; and I remember lying on the ground rolling with
laughter over some of the scenes in Henry the Fourth,
the mock play, and the seven men in buckram. But the
Tempest and Cymbeline were the plays I liked best and
knew best.

Altogether, I should say that in my early years books
were known to me, not as such, not for their general con-
tents, but for some especial image or picture I had picked
out of them and assimilated to my own mind and mixed up
with my own life. For example, out of Homer's Odyssey
(lent to me by the parish clerk) I had the picture of Xasi-
caa and her maidens going down in their chariots to wash
their linen : so that when the first time I went to the Pitti
Palace, and could hardly see the pictures through blinding
tears, I saw that picture of Rubens, which all remember
who have been at Florence, and it flashed delight and re-
freshment through those remembered childish associations.
The Sirens and Polypheme left also vivid pictures on my
fancy. The Iliad, on the contrary, wearied me, except the
parting of Hector and Andromache, in which the child,
scared by its father's dazzling helm and nodding crest, re-
mains a vivid image in my mind from that time.

The same parish clerk a curious fellow in his way
lent me also some religious tracts and stories, by Hannah
More. It is most certain that more moral mischief was done
to me by some of these than by all Shakespeare's plays to-
gether. These so-called pious tracts first introduced me to a

Online Libraryi00bostFavorite authors in prose and poetry → online text (page 6 of 66)