In Wilberforce's "Memoirs" there is an account of his having once asked Mr. Pitt whether his long experience as Prime Minister had made him think well or ill of his fellow-men. Mr. Pitt answered, "Well"; and his successor, Lord Melbourne, being asked the same question, answered, after a little reflection, "My opinion is the same as that of Mr. Pitt."
Let us have faith. It was a part of the vigor of the old Hebrew tradition to rejoice when a man-child was born into the world; and the maturer strength of nobler ages should rejoice over a woman-child as well. Nothing human is wholly sad, until it is effete and dying out. Where there is life there is promise. "Vitality is always hopeful," was the verdict of the most refined and clear-sighted woman who has yet explored the rough mining villages of the Rocky Mountains. There is apt to be a certain coarse virtue in rude health; as the Germanic races were purest when least civilized, and our American Indians did not unlearn chastity till they began to decay. But even where vigor and vice are found together, they still may hold a promise for the next generation. Out of the strong cometh forth sweetness. Parisian wickedness is not so discouraging merely because it is wicked, as from a suspicion that it is draining the life-blood of the nation. A mob of miners or of New York bullies may be uncomfortable neighbors, and may make a man of refinement hesitate whether to stop his ears or to feel for his revolver; but they hold more promise for the coming generations than the line which ends in Madame Bovary or the Vicomte de Camors.
But behind that cottage curtain, at any rate, a new and prophetic life had begun. I cannot foretell that child's future, but I know something of its past. The boy may grow up into a criminal, the woman into an outcast, yet the baby was beloved. It came "not in utter nakedness." It found itself heir of the two prime essentials of existence,--life and love. Its first possession was a woman's kiss; and in that heritage the most important need of its career was guaranteed. "An ounce of mother," says the Spanish proverb, "is worth a pound of clergy." Jean Paul says that in life every successive influence affects us less and less, so that the circumnavigator of the globe is less influenced by all the nations he has seen than by his nurse. Well may the child imbibe that reverence for motherhood which is the first need of man. Where woman is most a slave, she is at least sacred to her son. The Turkish Sultan must prostrate himself at the door of his mother's apartments, and were he known to have insulted her, it would make his throne tremble. Among the savage African Touaricks, if two parents disagree, it is to the mother that the child's obedience belongs. Over the greater part of the earth's surface, the foremost figures in all temples are the Mother and Child. Christian and Buddhist nations, numbering together two thirds of the world's population, unite in this worship. Into the secrets of the ritual that baby in the window had already received initiation.
And how much spiritual influence may in turn have gone forth from that little one! The coarsest father gains a new impulse to labor from the moment of his baby's birth; he scarcely sees it when awake, and yet it is with him all the time. Every stroke he strikes is for his child. New social aims, new moral motives, come vaguely up to him. The London costermonger told Mayhew that he thought every man would like his son or daughter to have a better start in the world than his own. After all, there is no tonic like the affections. Philosophers express wonder that the divine laws should give to some young girl, almost a child, the custody of an immortal soul. But what instruction the baby brings to the mother! She learns patience, self-control, endurance; her very arm grows strong, so that she can hold the dear burden longer than the father can. She learns to understand character, too, by dealing with it. "In training my first children," said a wise mother to me, "I thought that all were born just the same, and that I was wholly responsible for what they should become. I learned by degrees that each had a temperament of its own, which I must study before I could teach it." And thus, as the little ones grow older, their dawning instincts guide those of the parents; their questions suggest new answers, and to have loved them is a liberal education.
For the height of heights is love. The philosopher dries into a skeleton like that he investigates, unless love teaches him. He is blind among his microscopes, unless he sees in the humblest human soul a revelation that dwarfs all the world beside. While he grows gray in ignorance among his crucibles, every girlish mother is being illuminated by every kiss of her child. That house is so far sacred, which holds within its walls this new-born heir of eternity. But to dwell on these high mysteries would take us into depths beyond the present needs of mother or of infant, and it is better that the greater part of the baby-life should be that of an animated toy.
Perhaps it is well for all of us that we should live mostly on the surfaces of things and should play with life, to avoid taking it too hard. In a nursery the youngest child is a little more than a doll, and the doll is a little less than a child. What spell does fancy weave on earth like that which the one of these small beings performs for the other? This battered and tattered doll, this shapeless, featureless, possibly legless creature, whose mission it is to be dragged by one arm, or stood upon its head in the bathing-tub, until it finally reverts to the rag-bag whence it came,--what an affluence of breathing life is thrown around it by one touch of dawning imagination! Its little mistress will find all joy unavailing without its sympathetic presence, will confide every emotion to its pen-and-ink ears, and will weep passionate tears if its extremely soiled person is pricked when its clothes are mended. What psychologist, what student of the human heart, has ever applied his subtile analysis to the emotions of a child toward her doll?
I read lately the charming autobiography of a little girl of eight years, written literally from her own dictation. Since "Pet Marjorie" I have seen no such actual self-revelation on the part of a child. In the course of her narration she describes, with great precision and correctness, the travels of the family through Europe in the preceding year, assigning usually the place of importance to her doll, who appears simply as "My Baby." Nothing can be more grave, more accurate, more serious than the whole history, but nothing in it seems quite so real and alive as the doll. "When we got to Nice, I was sick. The next morning the doctor came, and he said I had something that was very much like scarlet fever. Then I had Annie take care of baby, and keep her away, for I was afraid she would get the fever. She used to cry to come to me, but I knew it wouldn't be good for her."
What firm judgment is here, what tenderness without weakness, what discreet motherhood! When Christmas came, it appears that baby hung up her stocking with the rest. Her devoted parent had bought for her a slate with a real pencil. Others provided thimble and scissors and bodkin and a spool of thread, and a travelling-shawl with a strap, and a cap with tarletan ruffles. "I found baby with the cap on, early in the morning, and she was so pleased she almost jumped out of my arms." Thus in the midst of visits to the Coliseum and St. Peter's, the drama of early affection goes always on. "I used to take her to hear the band, in the carriage, and she went everywhere I did." But the love of all dolls, as of other pets, must end with a tragedy, and here it comes. "The next place we went to was Lucerne. There was a lovely lake there, but I had a very sad time. One day I thought I'd take baby down to breakfast, and, as I was going up stairs, my foot slipped and baby broke her head. And O, I felt so bad! and I cried out, and I ran up stairs to Annie, and mamma came, and O, we were all so sorry! And mamma said she thought I could get another head, but I said, 'It won't be the same baby.' And mamma said, maybe we could make it seem so."
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