Copyright
Martha B Mosher.

Child culture in the home. A book for mothers online

. (page 2 of 13)
Online LibraryMartha B MosherChild culture in the home. A book for mothers → online text (page 2 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


tious person, then, permits no thought of ex-
pediency to stand between him and his sense
of right.

Knowledge and wisdom should be the hand-
maidens of the conscience, else it may prove a
curse instead of a blessing. Some of the
blackest crimes that history records, the most
cruel exactions, have been perpetrated by men
of misdirected consciences. One cannot say
that the Hindoo mother who throws her babe
in the river in fulfilment of her idea of right,
that the old persecutors who thought that they
were serving God by torturing their fellow men,
did wrong. They followed the dictates of their
consciences, which were, however, misdirected.
And who shall say that future ages may not
pass judgment on many points of our conduct
in the virtue of which we now firmly believe.
Conscience should be enthroned, but it should



The Moral Sense 27

be an enlightened conscience. If one's views
lead one to act at variance with the views of
the best, the most enlightened people, to act
against nature, I would not say " Surrender,"
but "Beware," for "ancient agreement and
long concurrence of many men have a right of
authority in reason. To rise above this is
grand action, but not to weigh it is shallow
thinking."

There is no more pathetic sight than a strong
power of conscientiousness directed toward
wickedness. We see this illustrated in the
case of children born and reared in iniquity,
who have no power to help themselves, but who
are taught from infancy that the only wrong is
not to be adepts in stealing, lying, deceiving
and other perversions. Therefore knowledge
and wise perception should go hand in hand
with conscience, and constitute its safeguards.
A child who has known the pleasure of a re-
lieved and approving conscience, even at great
personal inconvenience, will not be reluctant to
renew the experience.

While in most children the conscience needs
to be developed, there are a few, I believe the
number extremely small, in whom it is already
so sensitive that it needs to be repressed or
regulated ; they have an exaggerated fear of
wrong-doing ; they suffer intensely for slight
omissions and commissions. A too tender con-



.28 Child Culture

science is to be deprecated, for it produces ex-
cruciating and unnecessary suffering. What
should be cultivated is a healthy conscience,
one that acts naturally and vigorously, but in
which there is no taint of the morbid.

It is not best to anticipate too much, and
overwhelm the child with precepts. Let the
suggestion come with the occasion ; let the com-
mission or omission call forth the lesson, and
above all, let him perceive some truths for him-
self. No truths are so precious to us as those
we have ourselves perceived ; they make the
deepest impression on our moral natures, and
are the ones by which we are most apt to profit.

Next to what experience teaches, the child is
most impressed by the moral precepts which he
sees embodied. When he sees that the mother
and father give duty the precedence to pleasure,
that they refuse to give ear to vicious gossip,
charitably defend or suspend judgment against
the slandered, or when the mother sacrifices her
own convenience to minister to the unfortu-
nate, do not these living precepts speak more
eloquently to the child than any sermon un-
supported by example ?

There is a claim that evil example deters,
disgusts the beholder and thus acts beneficially
on the morals. The Spartans compelled the
Helots to get drunk at times, hoping the dis-
gusting sight would act as a deterrent to the



The Moral Sense 29

youth of the time. If such contact is not so
continuous as to harden the sensibilities, this
method might serve as a confirmation after the
moral sense has been developed, but if the
child's moral convictions are dim or weak, it is
a dangerous experiment.

Few persons seem to realize the significance
of strict integrity in the small everyday affairs
of life, yet they are the beginnings from which,
step by step, the moral sensibilities are quick-
ened or dulled, and perhaps forever weakened.
I had some difficulty in impressing upon one of
my children, when he first attended school, to
which he went by car, that if his fare were not
collected he should not retain it, but should
himself offer it to the conductor. His is a dis-
honesty to which many children must plead
guilty, and often with the parents' knowledge.
These little opportunities for inculcating un-
swerving honesty and integrity arise often in
every household, and should serve as occasions
for valuable practical lessons.

What is the obstacle that obstructs the path
of morality and virtuous living? Is it not the
suffering entailed ? There is no royal road to
virtue any more than there is to learning.
Whatever is worth having in the moral as well
as in the material or intellectual world, must be
earned by the sweat of the brow, else it would
be possessed by all ; it is the difficulty of attain-



30 Child Culture

ment which enhances the value. There is no
merit in not doing what we have no temptation
to do ; the merit is in the temptation resisted,
the weakness overcome. The recluse who with-
draws from the world that he may not meet
temptation, is not so strong as he who remains
in the world and fights the devil out of sight.

It is a great weakness in parents that they
are not willing their children should suffer in
the acquisition of moral rectitude ; they seem
to think their offspring can go through life
without pain. This folly affects the child, and
does more to weaken character than any other
one influence. Inspire the young with courage
to bear for the right, to expect to suffer incon-
veniences, and to do so willingly as a natural
concomitant of virtuous effort.

To submit to any suffering robs it of half its
bitterness. They who earnestly desire to
. conquer are willing to endure all for which the
conquest calls. They are the true soldiers, and
will find their compensation in the victory
which cannot fail to be theirs.

Not only in the battle, but after the unsuc-
cessful battle, the vanquished must suffer, and
by suffering he will attain the requisite
strength. Temptation calls forth the evil in
our nature that we may become conscious of it
and eradicate it. We may fall before such
seductions for a time, but when the avengers,



The Moral Sense 31

retribution, remorse and repentance overtake
us, they slay the evil that is in us, and after we
have recognized our passions we should not
again be misled. In the Purgatoria the spirits
plunge gladly into the fire, because they know
it purges. Lanier depicts Gwendolen's state
after coming under Deronda's influence as fol-
lows : " The possibility of making one's life a
good life, not only makes it worth living but
invests it with a romantic interest whose depth
is infinitely beyond that of all the society pleas-
ures which had hitherto formed her horizon."

It is not wise to develop the child's moral
nature by specific, arbitrary rules. Teach him
BIGHT THINKING, and above all EIGHT FEELING,
for noble and high feeling not only brings men
into the light where they can see well, but
keeps undefiled that tabernacle of God, their
integrity, which is the one essential for both
individuals and society.

Religion is the dynamics of good morals.
Because we often find good men and women
who disclaim belief in the supernatural (the so-
called agnostics), we may conclude that it is a
non-essential, that their morals were of inde-
pendent growth. It is a deception; they are
the fruit which has fallen from the tree of re-
ligion, and these good men and women do not
realize that the fruit was ever attached to it.
Religion is a leaven that has entered the world,



32 Child Culture

and though the world "know it not" and cast
it off, it has done its faithful work and will do
it to the end of time.

The child's faith will doubtless be that of its
parents, that which caine to it by tradition, and
it matters little what is the denomination. The
more deeply religious one is, the less one cares
about sects. But I should wish the child to be
Christian in the best sense of the word a fol-
lower of the spirit of Christ that spirit of
charity, justice, compassion and self-annihila-
tion wherein all sects reverence Him, and in
following which none can err.

There has been growing a sentiment that
children should not be taught dogmatically in
religious matters, but should await their own
interpretations in mature life ; nevertheless,
parents should have religious convictions them-
selves, and those which after profound and
prayerful effort appeal to them as truest, should
be the instruction given their children, at least
on cardinal subjects on which the child must
receive enlightenment from some source.

In so far as religion is a means of obtaining
soul culture, and not a matter of theological
polemics and hide-bound dogma, it can be and
is the source of man's truest inspirations ; the
preference should therefore be given the denom-
inations which hold character above dogma, the
spirit above the letter.



Ill

HEREDITY AND ENVIRONMENT

MAN is the product of two powers ; first the
organic, with which he is born ; second the ac-
quired, which comes to him by environment,
and by the action and reaction of his faculties.
Their respective importance and value have
been the subject of discussion, debate and in-
vestigation by the leading scientists and philos-
ophers of the day, some contending that the
difference between men is only a difference of
education ; others vindicating the claim of the
innate tendency, the preeminence of heredity.
Both claims are exaggerations, and a modifica-
tion of each is nearer the truth. It would be
utterly unscientific to believe that man does not
partake of the characteristics and tendencies of
his parents. In all nature like begets like.
Any given species reproduces the same species,
the bacillus of cholera produces only cholera
bacilli and that of consumption only consump-
tion. In the lower forms of animal and vegeta-
ble life the protoplasm is unaltered and trans-
mitted almost without change. Unlike the
creatures of the natural and animal world, man
has intellect and soul, and is thereby endowed
33



34 Child Culture

with a free will and power to modify his natural
inheritance.

The antimony which dominates the question
is solvable only by experiment and experience,"
and the data of both claimants are modified by
the results.

When it is observed in the animal world how
exactly and uniformly one breed and quality
begets the like breed and quality, it would seem
a simple conclusion that the law of transmis-
sion would be as inflexible in the case of man.
It proves not to be so with higher organisms ;
the higher the organism the greater the differ-
entiation; in these organisms, only tendencies,
not conditions, are transmitted. The causes of
the differentiation are both organic and ac-
quired. The child has two parents, perhaps of
different physical types, the one blonde the
other brunette; the child cannot possibly be
both, he must resemble the one or the other, or
be a modification of both. These parents have
qualities unlike ; the mother may be impulsive,
the father phlegmatic in temperament ; the
child can inherit only the qualities of one par-
ent, or be a modification of the two, and
thereby produces a more perfect balance than
existed in either parent ; or the two tendencies
may struggle in him always, sometimes one,
sometimes the other prevailing. In all opposing
tendencies one will dominate and the other be



Heredity and Environment 35

subordinate for that generation, perhaps for sev-
eral to come, and may then unexpectedly reas-
sert itself. Any tendency that has once de-
veloped is never lost, but is held in stock and
liable to reproduction. Atavism goes back of
parents and grandparents to remote ancestors,
and, though under certain conditions it may
never manifest itself, the possibility is never
extinct.

The point that confuses hereditists more than
any other is the great number of the ancestors
of every individual. Every man has four grand-
parents, eight great grandparents, thirty- two
direct progenitors in the preceding generation,
so that going back ten generations he finds him-
self a direct descendant of two thousand per-
sons and, as these figures double in each gener-
ation, his ancestry becomes almost coextensive
with the inhabitants of the earth. To what a
variety of tendencies is he therefore heir, and
how this multiplicity reduces the danger of the
establishment, confirmation and predominance
of any one trait. When one reflects what a
composite creature he is, is it any wonder that
a man finds himself the victim of so many
conflicting thoughts and passions, that he is
sometimes inconsistent? His possibilities are
not only the sum of all the inherited tendencies
of all his forefathers, but also include those ten-
dencies acquired by each forefather, these also



36 Child Culture

being represented in every transmission. Each
one's natural and inherited tendencies are added
unto by his environment ; they are either fos-
tered and increased or they are whipped back
and modified ; so that while every man is a prod-
uct, he is also a producer of tendencies, and
the new product has just as fixed a quality as
its predecessor. These changes are wrought by
environment and are the salvation of what
might otherwise be a hopeless heritage. The
remarkable feature of heredity is the tenacity
with which it clings to what is once conceded
to it ; this retention is its special function, while
change, melioration is the function of environ-
ment. If heredity is permitted to do its worst,
to strengthen the same evil tendencies gener-
ation after generation, the weak traits uniting
with the weak, the depraved with the depraved,
and environment in no way relieves the condi-
tion, then certain characteristics become in-
grained, and it will take generations of better
tendencies to undo the traits which have become
so fixed. Yet the worst can be modified in one
generation by union with better qualities and
by a favorable environment. The hindrance
to such redemption lies in the solidarity of the
weak, just as the strength of the virtuous is in
their solidarity. 1

1 North American Review, Sept. 1893, "The Lesson of
Heredity." By Henry S. Williams.



Heredity and Environment 37

The attraction of opposite qualities in the
sexes helps to preserve the equilibrium, for by
the union of a man and woman of opposite
characteristics a general balance is apt to ensue
in the offspring. The weakness of the aristoc-
racy is in their environment; overindulgence
weakens, too great license removes the re-
straints which fetter the less privileged class,
so that we constantly see the high degenerating,
and their places filled by others who have been
more favorably environed. However certain
one may feel that he has a goodly heritage,
it should be preciously guarded, for who knows
the latent evil that lurks in the rear, awaiting
opportunity to reassert itself, and every man
has enough such tendencies in his composition
to prove his undoing if he gives play to them.

Men and women who take pleasure in hurt-
ing one another's feelings still retain the in-
stincts of the reptiles of ages ago that crawled
the earth, seeking whom they might sting or
stick their fangs into. All have inherent good
and inherent bad tendencies ; man is by his
conglomerate ancestry a creature of great com-
plexity.

A man whose recent ancestry has yielded to
its evil tendencies in any direction will find
these currents in himself nearer the surface
and more prone to assert themselves; but he
may have strong counter-currents that have lain



38 Child Culture

dormant and which will react to a changed en-
vironment; these he can array against his weak-
ness and become a stronger man than one who
had no such battle to fight. The man who
feels that he can rest on the laurels of his an-
cestors, may become reckless or less guarded
and be overthrown ; the man who is conscious of
a weak inheritance may be on the alert against
the enemy, and on that point unassailable. The
necessity is that he should feel his -own respon-
sibility for himself. Nothing thwarts a man's
redemption so completely as a sense of fatality,
of moral slavery, of an irremedial heredity,
which is also unwarranted, for in the light of
scientific facts all have inherent possibilities for
good. What a source of comfort and hope this
affords a man who aspires to be better than his
heritage. In religion and morality alike, the
idea of salvation i. e., health giving is the
essential idea. " Blood will tell," but which
blood? That will be decided largely by a
man's environment. " If virtue and morality
cannot be taught, then the whole moral obli-
gation is void ; if heredity is without remedy,
social science is paralyzed."

Citations are constantly made to prove the
strength of heredity ; many might be made to
show its irregularities. Men of talent are
rarely sons of men eminent in the same line, or
even of men who have evinced unusual ability ;



Heredity and Environment 39

neither do we hear much of the posterity of
genius. By the laws of heredity the brilliant
should beget the brilliant, talent beget talent,
yet the fact is that cases of marked ability, or
talent, are almost invariably sporadic.

By environment is meant not only the direct,
intentional education which the child receives,
but also every influence that touches his life
after birth. Example, as has been shown else-
where, is one of the greatest forces in develop-
ing good tendencies in a child, as, more than
all others it shows possibilities realized. There
is another force to which psychologists have
lately given attention, the force of sugges-
tion. " All perception is incipient suggestion,'*
says Guj^au, 1 " which in certain individuals not
being neutralized by other suggestions, com-
pletes itself in action^ All suggestion becomes
irresistible when perception, instead of being
produced in the midst of complex states of con-
sciousness which limit it, occupies the whole
consciousness, and at a given moment con-
stitutes the whole inner being. This state is
found in all whose mental equilibrium is made
more or less unstable by a kind of abstraction
which suppresses in the mind one aspect of
reality Thus suggestion is the trans-
formation by which a relatively passive organ-
ism tends to bring itself into unison with a rel-
1 L'Education et 1'Heredity.



40 Child Culture

atively active organism ; the latter dominates
the former, and eventually controls its external
movements and inner beliefs. Intercourse with
respected masters, relatives, or any superior
whatever, must produce suggestions which ex-
tend through a child's life. Crimes are propa-
gated by suggestion, often in the form in which
the first was committed. The injury done by
the Press in giving the details of crimes, sui-
cides, etc., is incalculable, and shows the power
of suggestion for evil. Obedience is the effect
of successful suggestion, and the power of sug-
gestion is reducible to the power of assertion.
Temperaments most capable of acquiring
authority over men are those which assert
most strongly. They who have the strongest
beliefs, the strongest convictions, are the ones
who are the most believed, who have the most
authority. Every strong will tends to create
a will m the same direction in other individuals.
What one thinks with sufficient energy, one
makes others think and see in the same light ;
the power of affirmation is contagious ; author-
ity is the centre from which action is radiated."
Children, on account of their absence of
ideas, have the undeveloped consciousness pe-
culiarly open to this force. Everything the
child sees is a suggestion to it. Everyone
knows the story of the woman who, when go-
ing out one day, told her children not to put



Heredity and Environment 41

any beans in their noses. The children had no
thought of doing such a thing previous to the
suggestion, which, however, proved stronger
than their power of obedience, for, when the
mother returned all the children had beans up
their noses.

Shakespeare illustrates the power of sugges-
tion in Macbeth, when the witches salute him
"All hail Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of
Cawdor!" and, "That shalt be king hereafter,"
which suggestion led to Duncan's death and
the elevation of Macbeth to the throne.

The moral art of suggestion is the art of
modifying an individual by making him believe
he may be other than he is. It is one of the
important means in education. Persuade a
child that he has a strong will in order to
give him strength of will ; make him feel that
he is morally free, that he may realize the idea
of moral liberty. If moral slavery reduce him
to the belief that he has no strength to resist,
that he is powerless to oppose his impulse, he
yields without a struggle. One's faith in one's
ability to do anything is half of the achieve-
ment. The art of managing the young, and
even men, consists in assuming them to be as
good as we wish them to be, thus forcing on
them a "NOBLESSE OBLIGE." Therefore, in
education, always presuppose the existence of
goodness and goodwill. All children have bet-



42 Child Culture

ter intentions than their conduct indicates. Ill
conduct is oftener the result of thoughtless-
ness, impulse, overflowing animal spirits than
of real waywardness or deliberation.

It is well to give tasks to children because it
accustoms them to exert their will power, and
in the experience of winning success, they learn
their power and thus acquire self-confidence.
The task should never exceed the child's power,
however, but be increased in proportion to his
strength. To task him beyond his power is to
produce a result diametrically opposed to the
idea of capability which one is trying to instil.
The essential purpose is to create, by direct
suggestion or repeated action, a series of habits
capable of strengthening some, or of supplant-
ing other, impulses of heredity origin. Chil-
dren admire moral strength, arid no suggestion
will appeal to them more strongly than one ex-
ercised in this direction.

The influence of good social environment is
a power too manifest for the partisans of hered-
ity not to admit. The actions of our ancestors
prompt certain actions in us, and if there is
nothing to correct the prompting we yield to
it. But, with the solidarity of our social en-
vironment favoring us, the original prompting
is continually disregarded until it is lost. The
child, by the influence of example, of moral
suggestion in various forms, and of another ele-



Heredity and Environment 43

ment which may be described as the element of
obligation or duty the feeling that what one
can do one ought to do, disregards its first in-
clination, and in time establishes the habit of
resistance. All of these influences may be
classed however as coming from blind prompt-
ings or instinctive adaptations to the right, and
while they are valuable, they are far less so
than insight, the perception of right, the indi-
vidual concurrence of the heart and mind in
divine law, which generates living principles.

Genius is born. Though much more easily
obtained by men of righteous ancestry, virtue
can only be the result of individual effort.
Who would not wish to be well-born, both for
the honor it confers, and because one's lot in
life is thereby rendered so much easier ? If a
man could choose his ancestors he would choose
only the best. No man is responsible to God
or to man for his forefathers or his birth, but
every man has some responsibility for his en-
vironment, for his acquired qualities, and it is
his duty and should be his ambition to leave
to his progeny the best possible inheritance,
and to say with Napoleon, " It is I who am the
ancestor."

Many well-to-do childless families claim they
would adopt orphan children or foundlings if
it were not for the danger of a bad heredity in
such children. The majority of foundlings are



44 Child Culture

doubtless ill born, or at least the offspring of
weakness, but with good environment, so many
have become highly respected members of so-
ciety and sources of such infinite comfort and
pleasure to the adopted parents that the be-
nevolent should not be discouraged. Some
very excellent people have children of their
own who turn out most unfortunately, but it
does not follow because the parents were good


2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryMartha B MosherChild culture in the home. A book for mothers → online text (page 2 of 13)